No More Free Doughnuts: On-the-job training

Aug. 1, 2002

No More Free Doughnuts

On-the-job training

By Wayne Fry

I have a stack of training certificates laying here before me. I've got them all: factory training, in-house training, correspondence training, computer-based training, and a handful of certificates that I don't remember getting. The latter are for subjects such as "Introduction to single engine, non-retractable landing gear, fixed pitch ducted fan propeller aircraft with vapor cycle air conditioning." And here's one for "Advanced theory of fully articulated elastomeric main rotor hub bearings as they relate to dual bifilar primary vibration dampers." (I'm not so sure about that second one.) I've had a lot of classroom time in my days. More than I care to remember. I enjoyed it all, but I don't have a single certificate for the best training I ever received; OJT. On-the-job training was by far the most useful instruction I ever got. There weren't any free doughnuts, I didn't get any baseball caps or stickers, no trips to exciting places like Ft. Worth and Wichita, but I learned something much more important: how to work on aircraft.
No classroom instructor taught me good work habits. No three-ring binder contained the knowledge I needed to fix three helicopters before sunrise to calm a panicky lead pilot. Like most of us, I learned these things in the trenches. Looking back on 18 years in the oil patch I'm amazed at the wealth of the knowledge that people were willing to pass along to me. So, now it's my turn. And yours. All those new A&Ps who wander out onto the hangar floor need your help. They need your knowledge. Here's your chance.
Many of the mechanics that I worked with were marvelous teachers. No one has a better idea of how to do the job than the mechanics who are out there spinning wrenches. In the helicopter world that I came from we worked on 10 different makes and models of aircraft on any given day. No one knew everything about all of them. If I needed help with an unusual problem, I asked around and got it. When the company I worked for bought some star wars technology to check the track and balance of main rotor systems, we received some very basic training on how to use it. They gave us just enough knowledge to be dangerous. The first time we hooked it up it was a disaster. We were moving backwards so fast that I didn't think we'd ever get the aircraft back up in the air. Over time, several of the guys became experts at using this gear. When we needed help, we didn't phone the factory reps; we called on our own experts. Two of the flight line mechanics starting giving classes. They gladly passed along what they had learned. They were proud of what they knew and proud to share it. This is a great approach to training and one we all need to take.

Bottom line vs. training needs
As the companies out there focus more on the bottom line, we will all receive less formal training. It's hard to persuade your boss to spend the money to send you away for a week or more for the necessary training. Not all companies recognize the need for training. I know mechanics who have to take vacation time to attend IA renewal seminars, and that's only a day or two. Many companies believe that if you were able to do the work yesterday, you can do it today. But this isn't necessarily so.
Why? Well, for several reasons. The technology is moving forward at a tremendous pace, especially in avionics. The skills that we don't use every day tend to vanish. We get stale. Aircraft are upgraded, STC'd, and modified. New tools and techniques are being developed every day. But these reasons don't always line up with today's budgets. So what do you do? How do you learn new skills? How do you keep up with the changes? How do we even get the basic training that we need? Here's what I believe: We must learn from one another.
Every mechanic that I have ever met had something useful to teach me. We all have a few tricks up our sleeves that could save someone else time, frustration, and the inevitable use of some less-than-gentlemanly language. Manufacturers cannot cover everything that can go wrong in their books. Anybody who has tried to troubleshoot an electrical problem using maintenance manuals that were translated from French into English knows what I mean. If you can't figure it out, seek out someone who has boldly gone there before. If they made it back alive, they are probably a great resource. I do not mean to imply that you shouldn't follow the manufacturer's instructions, you must. But if you know someone who has been down the same path you are walking (or crawling), call on him or her for assistance. They'll give it to you. When you come across a green A&P who has more enthusiasm than experience, teach him the basics. There are four fundamentals that every new A&P should learn. First, read the manuals. This is so elementary that I'm hesitating to include it. But I must confess that I've been caught a few times. Manuals get revised and edited and the data you used last time may not still be current. Read the book! Next, have the tools to do the job. Even the expensive special tools. They'll save you time and frustration. Third, follow the correct procedures. These may be the manufacturers' or your company's, (or both) depending on the type of operator you work for. And fourth, do the paperwork. If you didn't write it down, it didn't happen. Logbooks are your best friend; fill 'em up. If you can teach a new technician these simple yet essential steps, you've done him or her and the industry a great service.

Share your knowledge
Over the years, I found that I liked teaching people how to do things. I enjoyed sharing the knowledge that I had gained. Perhaps I was just showing off, but I can't deny that it felt good. There are many mechanics out there that feel the same way. If you can teach someone a task, chances are good that you've mastered it. Ask any instructor and he will tell you that every time that he teaches a class he also learns something. Don't be shy. Share your knowledge, your skills, even your special tools. A guy I worked with once gave me a very strange looking ignition wrench. It had been heated and bent and twisted. It was perfect for removing fuel controls from Allison engines. He told me that he had an extra one and that I could keep it. Another friend gave me special wrench for removing fuel nozzles. He'd made it out of some steel plate and an old socket for about $5. It was identical to the $250 wrench that the manufacturer sold. This is the kind of help and assistance we can give each other. We are not at a loss when our company's training budget goes south. Give a class to the folks you work with. Teach a new mechanic how to do a simple task and then how to do one that's challenging. Let someone show you how to do a tricky job. No, you won't get a certificate to frame, and you'll have to buy your own doughnuts, but you'll be a better, safer, smarter mechanic.

Wayne Fry is an FAA safety inspector based in Washington, D.C.