Making the Grade
NBAA forum focused on training programs' "room for improvement"
By Melissa Roglitz
Ask and sometimes you get lucky and receive. Sometimes, you have to ask again and again, rephrasing the question each time. And sometimes you don't know what you should ask for; you just know something needs to change. Thus is the story with maintenance training.
In October of 1999, at the NBAA Maintenance Management Conference in Orlando, FL, a forum was held to discuss possible improvements in maintenance training courses. Leading the forum were Jim West and Leonard Beauchemin, chairman and vice chairman of the NBAA Maintenance Committee, respectively. The forum was born of a survey done at an earlier NBAA maintenance conference which defined maintenance training as the number one problem in flight operations that the Maintenance Committee could help with. The purpose of the Orlando forum was to bring maintenance training to the forefront and put it under the bright lights, where all of its flaws and strong points would be more visible.
The road of change must start somewhere, and this forum marked the beginning of positive improvements for maintenance training. The customers spoke, and the training companies and OEMs, it appears, listened.
"It's tough to get people to change if they don't think it's broke, so what we're trying to do is convince people, 'Look, maybe you don't think it's broke, but isn't this a better way to do it? If it's better, why aren't we doing it?'" asks West of Philip Morris Management Corp.
NBAA Corporate Operators identified eight main areas of concern: course length, course content, instructional aids, course development, course selection, knowledge testing, instructors, and course critiques. Following are the descriptions of the concern areas as well as proposed solutions by the Maintenance Committee.
Currently, maintenance courses are a one-time, four- to five-week event, teaching as much information as possible in that time period. This goes against the human laws of knowledge retention.
"Really it makes no difference what type of training you're in. If you're sitting in the classroom hour after hour after hour, you lose your attention span," says West. "We're not saying that there may not be that much information that needs to be taught. What we're saying is that if you try and teach it all at the same time, that the retention is going to be such that it's not beneficial to the student.
"We need to pay attention to studies that have been done in the education field that talk to learning saturation and things like that. We need to be mindful of those principals."
Cutting course length does not mean a company should cut a technician's total training time. Instead, a company could break up a technician's time away from the hangar by sending him or her to two, two-week courses, not the current one, four-week course. A cut in course length can translate into a cut in company expenses, as well.
"It cuts the costs down, not only the up-front costs in terms of the hotel, the per diem, the food and the meals, and all that stuff, but the time away from the hangar. There aren't a lot of companies out there who are over-staffed that can tolerate that; however, there is no way that the industry can tolerate not training," West commented.
FlightSafety's Director of Maintenance Standards Mike Lee reports that FlightSafety agrees with the Maintenance Committee's need for shorter courses.
"We are in the process of a three-year re-weighting of our courses, which took 10 years of input from our customers. They (courses) will be decreased in length. We're using the Northwest study that re-evaluated the task analysis of the A&P," Lee said.
Focusing course information on everyday tasks and needed skills is the key to creating a sturdy learning base for the student. Teach them how to crawl, then walk, then run. The learning process shouldn't begin with running, hoping some of the students will be able to do it right away and the others will eventually catch up.
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