Matt Wald

The following GuestView column by Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) Vice President of Strategic Initiatives Matt Wald, appearing in the March/April issue of RVBusiness, offers an update on RVIA’s renewed efforts to help the industry recruit and train qualified service technicians and ultimately develop a plan to completely revamp the industry’s current approach to tech training at the request of RVIA’s board of directors. A preliminary draft of that plan is to be addressed during RVIA Committee Week, June 3-7 at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C.

 The RV industry is currently achieving new heights of success. Record numbers of RVs are being produced and sold to an ever-expanding demographic of RV consumers. We are experiencing a golden era in the RV world.

As always, with great success comes great responsibility. RV buyers make a significant investment in the products our industry builds and sells. They trust that there are well-trained, highly-skilled technicians available to keep their RVs safe and operational within reasonable repair cycle time frames. Our recent RVIA/RVDA Repair Event Cycle Time (RECT) study clearly demonstrates that better trained techs significantly reduce RECT. 

While RV sales are increasing, the number of proficient, well-trained RV technicians is steady or declining. The turnover of RV techs is alarmingly high. This is a crisis in the making. Record sales today translate to record repairs down the road. RVers are going to be negatively impacted if they cannot get their units repaired in a timely manner, leaving RV owners angry and disappointed. The RV industry’s reputation and future sales will ultimately suffer. The need is urgent and must be addressed immediately. 

For at least 40 years the RV industry has attempted to address RV technician training. Those efforts have met resistance with which the RV industry is all too familiar. Among those resistors are: no hard industry requirements around tech training; service providers so desperate for techs that they pull them out of training and put them to work; relatively low starting pay for techs; competition from other blue-collar trades coupled with the shortage of tradespeople in the United States; back and forth over warranty reimbursement rates; lack of resources to address the problem; mixed market motivations around tech training … the list goes on and on. Past efforts have moved the needle, but only so far.

The good news is that, this past October, the RVIA Board of Directors passed the following motion:By Committee Week (June 2018), present to the RVIA board a comprehensive strategic plan that leverages all RVIA departments to increase technical training, certification and employment in anticipation of making a significant investment in re-inventing RV tech recruitment and training.”

The first step RVIA took to meet this goal was to convene a focus group of RVIA members (OEMs and suppliers) who are subject matter experts in the field of tech training – the people providing product-specific training. That group used Six Sigma tools to create environmental maps of the current landscape of RV technician training. Using Lean Management to analyze those maps, the three key areas for improvement became clear: 1) lack of standardized, centrally managed training, 2) no focused efforts to identify and recruit techs to the career and 3) no clear career path for a new or existing RV tech to follow to become a proficient RV tech.

The group then created this mission statement: Improve the consumer experience by providing as many RV technicians as quickly as possible with the knowledge, skills and abilities to diagnose and “fix-it-right the first time,” reducing repair event cycle time.

The hard part, of course, is how the industry achieves that. The answer lies in an ‘all of the above’ approach that includes as many training offerings as possible from as many training providers as possible, in a way that is strategic and highly focused and managed.

At the heart of this future state vision developing a central Technician Database. In an approach that has proven effective in the aviation repair and maintenance industry, RVIA will assign every existing and new RV tech a technician number that the tech keeps for life. This allows the database to track all approved training and certifications the technician has completed or achieved, no matter the source.

The Technician Database will be a market-based tool that will allow dealers, OEMs and suppliers transparency into the training and certifications of the technicians who either work for them or on their products. It will allow each stakeholder to make business decisions about what that tech can work on, what facilities can be authorized service centers, what reimbursement rates are paid and whom dealers or independent service centers can potentially recruit.

In addition, the database could drive future credentialing. The vision is that if a tech has a certain number of hours of refrigeration systems trainings as well as hands-on repair events, for example, or holds several refrigerator certifications in the database, then that tech earns a refrigeration credential. Similarly, credentials would be earned with other major components, systems, or processes. This would allow RV techs to focus on a specialty or become a generalist and, either way, be acknowledged for it.

Of course, a database must be filled with content. The question of what training is offered through what mechanisms is the question currently on the table as RVIA opens this strategic planning process to the entire industry for advice and input. There are strategies and tactics that must be developed around training curriculum, training delivery, course accreditation for inclusion in the database, credentialing/badges, recruiting new techs, defining the tech customer journey/career path, and educating consumers. We are currently reaching out and working with every segment of the industry to develop strategies and tactics around these requirements.

RVIA is strongly committed to meeting the future challenges created by our industry’s current success. We will continue to work with everyone and anyone who shares our mission of improving the consumer experience by providing as many RV technicians as quickly as possible with the knowledge, skills and abilities to diagnose and “fix-it-right the first time,” reducing repair event cycle time.