A great article & subsequent discussion here.
I have limited experience of the skill level of these youngsters & I have to agree with you (& so it seems, everyone else who is replying). There appears to be a perception that the electrical element (no pun intended) of our trade is almost a separate subject & something that is to be farmed out to those who specialise.
In a similar way that the majority of the trade now outsource certain repairs, such as Diesel Pump / injector test & repair & also transmission repairs & rebuilds etc, I believe that electrical work is often seen as too complex for most techs to tackle effectively & efficiently. It isn't the technicians fault in my opinion, as it is a cultural problem that the trade has allowed to evolve. Or rather we haven't evolved as we needed to!
Mechanic or Technician?
I often wonder if some folks are happy to hide behind the title "mechanic" rather than "technician"? The former implies a role more suited to spanner work, whereas the latter can be seen as a more elite role, one which many mechanics don't feel comfortable adopting. It would be interesting to know, how the guys (& galls) refer to themselves when asked what they consider their role is. Perhaps modern apprenticeships should be separated into subgroups, to cater for mechanics & technicians in their own rights?
I have to lay my cards on the table & state my own position here. Back in the 80's I did my Motor Vehicle Craft Studies (City & Guilds), in which I achieved good results. Back then the opinion was that it was a watered down version of what my professional forbears had experienced. I was taught the mechanical aspect in reasonable depth I thought, but the electrical portion was lacking for sure. I went through the first ten years of my career, building on the knowledge that I learned at school & to a lesser extent at college. Truthfully though, my understanding of electrical principles was very poor.
The majority of the knowledge that I have today, has been achieved by my understanding of my limitations, or gaps in my arsenal of automotive repair solutions. I remember the feelings of inadequacy, when I replaced a starter motor on an Austin Maestro 2.0 Di & it didn't fix it & then when the subsequent starter didn't work either, I knew that something must be done to prevent further screw ups. Although I was quite young at the time & I take a good portion of the blame for that kind of bad diagnosis, I do feel that the culture of the garage (the owner, foreman & other staff) had a lot to answer for. Quite who is responsible for this "culture" I am unsure, but I think that it runs fairly deeply throughout the trade as a whole & still does. Many workshops still do "muddle through" electrically & will still outsource the job after they have exhausted their repertoire of parts darts.
I have to confess that I found (still find) the water analogy helpful. It gave me a visual representation of the invisible concepts, which I struggled to grasp. In the same way that I never understood the operation of the final drive differential by listening to the tutor or by reading the books & studying diagrams, instead I only slotted the pieces together (or rather the penny dropped), once I had gotten one in bits & had a hands on play with it. I think that many technicians have a similar experience with learning & that it is only when the practical examples are there before their eyes, that a fuller understanding is gained.
For me though, by far the biggest leap was gained when I took possession of my Picoscope. Although it has been a fantastic diagnostic aid, equally it has proved to be an educational experience too. I would add however, that a vital ingredient required in any personal development process & that is the willingness of the individual to partake. Sadly I have to say that think there is a significant problem in that aspect too. We could go on for hours about the makeup of our members, about lack of motivation & respect from our employers & the public, but that is too big for this discussion I think. Although it is massively relevant.
As someone said already, the college tutors are working within guidelines that are beyond their control & without a thorough & relevant syllabus, they are limited in what they have to work with. That said, A good teacher is a good teacher & they usually stimulate the interest of the class & drive home a good degree of learning. I am sure that we have all experienced good & bad training as adults too. In some cases the tutor clearly is knowledgeable, yet fails to deliver a good training experience, due to their underwhelming, tedious & monotone style of delivery. Without wishing to blow smoke James, I think that most who attend your Techtopics events, will agree that your explanations of complex subjects, with an interjection of humour & down to earth "real life" examples, make it an easier & more enjoyable experience.
I don't have specific knowledge of this, but I do question the quality & relevance of the current curriculum & also the experience of the tutors. A couple of years ago I was asked to attend the local College, so that I could do an afternoon talk to the motor vehicle department, on the value & use of the scope in the modern workshop. Although the guys were clearly clued up with the fundamental subjects, it soon became clear that they were light years behind where we are at the coal face (so to speak).
You are right to raise this subject James, as I believe that we are already experiencing a skills shortage in our trade & if things remain unchanged, then the fast pace of development will accelerate the problem & I firmly believe that vehicle owners will have a hard time finding someone who is able to effectively fix their ride.
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