Reducing dealer training costs; increasing technician expertise
The small town of Thief River Falls, Minn., would not normally come to mind as a hotbed of online and distance learning. But Arctic Cat, manufacturer of snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), has been using technology to help train technicians in a network of approximately 1,400 dealers worldwide.
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Prior to implementing a Blackboard Learning System, dealer technicians either came to Thief River Falls for training or met with training instructors who visited dealerships to provide hands-on instruction and certification for servicing snowmobiles and ATVs. After training, headquarters sent out paper tests to the technicians, which was the first phase of a tedious and time-consuming series of mailings and faxes between the main office and the dealers. In addition, the tests were graded manually when they were returned to Thief River Falls — and if a technician didn’t pass, the back-and-forth continued through re-tests.
By 2005, Arctic Cat’s dealer communications coordinator, James Davidson, decided that the testing system was “archaic.” While in-person training was to continue, paper-based testing in the context of an already established electronic dealer channel for registering vehicles, ordering parts and warranty claims, made no sense at all.
Davidson points out that the Blackboard Learning System was implemented easily and that all the feedback has been very positive. Technicians appreciate the immediate test results the system provides, as well as being able to access tests online at any time.
Arctic Cat has been able to increase its rate of certifications in part by eliminating dealer excuses for not going through training, such as travel to Thief River Falls being too expensive or dealerships being too busy for techs to take time away.
“Using the Blackboard solution has been a great way for us to bring a greater awareness of Arctic Cat right to the dealers’ front doors,” Davidson says.
A longstanding tradition with Arctic Cat has been financial rewards to dealers and premium incentives to technicians for improving their levels of certification. Dealers can increase labor rates charged for warranty work up to 17 percent for a Gold-certified technician, and technicians receive Arctic Cat-branded clothing, plaques and various tool sets as they increase their expertise.
Mavis Martinson, Arctic Cat’s product support assistant, receives online notification whenever someone has passed a test.
“It used to be I had to grade everything by hand with lots of mailing back and forth, which was very time consuming,” she says. “Now I’ve barely checked out who’s eligible before I’m getting calls asking, ‘Where’s my plaque?’”
The new electronic tests are more challenging than the old paper versions. This has forced technicians to have a better grasp of the required material. Feedback on right or wrong answers is immediate, and there is a 24-hour waiting period before retaking a test.
To increase their chances of passing, technicians review material during the waiting period and have to do research to find correct answers to questions they missed — since the system only indicates right or wrong, but does not provide the correct responses.
“Because the testing makes us go back to review the information we have at the dealer level, we’ve been diagnosing problems much more quickly than we were before,” says Tom Rowland, a Gold-certified technician and owner of Thomas Sno Sports in Ogilvie, Minn. “The new process is really making us better mechanics.”
Greg Harris is an Arctic Cat service training instructor who has been training technicians for 21 years. Between postage and employee time required to grade and process paper tests, he estimates the company is saving $75,000 per year by using electronic testing.
While there is, in fact, one paper test that remains (specifically to demonstrate that technicians can handle the paperwork), Harris also points to the advantage of Blackboard’s centralized administration. This allows him to correct, revise, add and delete questions without having to reprint and resend new versions of the tests to dealers.
In the three years before implementing the Blackboard solution, 85 technicians achieved Gold-level status. In the two years since implementation, that number rose to 177.
To learn more about Blackboard’s Professional Education Solutions, visit the Website www.blackboard.com.