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GM Service Technical College Optimas Award Winner for Financial Impact

The automaker’s collaboration with Raytheon has cut costs and brought valuable training to more of its dealership service technicians.

September 7, 2011
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Imagine learning how to build a new car model from scratch every 45 days. In essence, that’s what mechanics at General Motors dealerships had to do in the late 1990s to fix new car models the auto giant was pumping out from the plants of its various car divisions.

    But with every new car came a new set of repair instructions. Each division trained service technicians only on the autos it produced, even though many vehicles shared design elements. To make things more inefficient, the technicians had to travel to off-site training facilities. Rather than fix the system, GM sent it to the scrap pile.

    The Detroit automaker hired Raytheon Professional Services, a subsidiary of the Waltham, Massachusetts, aerospace and defense systems supplier. Raytheon’s training outsourcing company created a program for GM that uses a blend of computer-assisted, television-broadcast and classroom-based instruction to train mechanics.

    GM Service Technical College opened in 1999.

    Raytheon restructured the old curriculum to create three broad categories, each representing a different level mechanics must master before moving on. The first level focuses on features that are fundamental to all vehicles; the second level teaches students about the different systems certain vehicles share; and the third and most expert level explains how to maintain and repair new products.

    Outsourcing technical training to Raytheon has proved to be a valuable asset in GM’s struggle to stay competitive in an automobile industry in which Toyota is poised to overtake GM as the world’s largest car manufacturer.

    Today it costs GM about $85 an hour to pay a mechanic to fix a car that is under warranty. A good mechanic who is well-trained can "fix it right the first time," says Lisa Kennedy, Raytheon’s communications manager, repeating what has become the mantra of the GM Service Technical College. Eighty-five percent of learning now takes place online. Ten percent of training requires technicians to travel to a location outside the dealership. GM no longer has to hire trainers or maintain its 180 training facilities, some of which were hardly state of the art.

    "In some areas it was as simple as a hotel room here and a guy there who would throw a transmission into his truck and head out," Kennedy says.

    GM now uses Raytheon’s six regional training locations and 28 smaller satellite facilities.

    The cost of training has decreased by more than half since the program began. The cost per hour to train a technician is now $10, down from $140 when GM ran its program.

Before the technical college was established, 35 percent of all dealership technicians received training each year. Today, 90 percent of technicians enroll in at least one of the training components.

    "I understand how GM’s whole car line and how their systems work, and how similar they are to one another, because of my training," says Mark Hardman, a service technician at Crestview Cadillac in Rochester, Michigan. "And I have confidence that there is almost an unlimited resource at my fingertips."

    In 2004, GM renewed its contract with Raytheon and decided to expand the program to service technicians at dealerships in Canada and Mexico and to fleet and commercial vehicle technicians.

    For its efforts to create a progressive employee instruction program, GM Service Technical College wins the 2007 Optimas Award for Financial Impact.

General Motors Corp. launched the GM Service Technical College with Raytheon Professional Services to effectively train dealership service technicians. The college uses computer-assisted and classroom-based instruction to teach mechanics how to think about GM cars systemically so that problems can be diagnosed and fixed quickly and accurately.

The GM Service Technical College has made it easier for service technicians to get the training they need, when they want it. Before the college was launched, only 35 percent of all dealership technicians received training each year, compared with 90 percent today. The cost of training is now $10 an hour, compared with $140 an hour nearly 10 years ago.

Workforce Management, March 12, 2007, p. 26 -- Subscribe Now!

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