The good and the great

In the first in a series of articles, Ian Gillgrass shows how following the diagnostic process can turn a good technician into a great technician

Published:  17 February, 2018

Being part of Top Technician for the last few years, I have seen many technicians succeed and develop new skills. Typically all are good rounded technicians and have great knowledge, but what makes the difference and makes the good into the great?
It’s not just that they are lucky. The difference is that a great diagnostic technician will have a well-defined diagnostic process (or procedure) that they stick to every time.

Some technicians start their diagnostic procedure with a well laid-out and defined process that they have normally learnt, often from training courses. As with any new process, it starts slowly as theory is put into practice until it becomes natural.
Many technicians typically revert ‘back to type’ during the early stages, as their older method seems to make the diagnostic process shorter. As a result they believe it could make them more money. Yes, in the short term they may be right. However, normally in the longer term a well-defined diagnostic process proves to be infallible especially when the fault is difficult to diagnose or a vehicle that has been to several garages and the fault is still apparent.
Many technicians also try to shortcut the process, taking out some of the steps that don’t seem to help in finding the answer. Sometimes a simple fault is made more complex by the technician overlooking the obvious in the second or third step, jumping from step one to step four because that’s where they feel comfortable. In this series of articles I’ll be covering the 10 steps that make up a well-planned, well organised, tried and tested diagnostic process. Use the process and refine it within your business, it works.
Many businesses use a similar structured process and base their estimating/costing model on it
as well.

Let’s start at the beginning, with the meaning of diagnosis. Most technicians will look at the word and think it only relates to a computer controlled system and they have to use a fault code/scan tool to be able to diagnose a fault. This is not the case. Diagnosis can relate to any fault, whether that is electrical or mechanical. Therefore, the diagnosis can relate to an electronic fault by the malfunction indicator lamp (MIL) indicating a fault exists or a mechanical fault that exists within a clutch operating system.
The meaning of diagnosis is: ‘The identification of a fault by the examination of symptoms and signs and by other investigations to enable a conclusion to be reached.’
Or alternatively: ‘Through the analysis of facts of the fault, to gain an understanding which leads to
a conclusion.’
Both can relate to various professions.
With this in mind, what have celebrity chef Paul Hollywood, your doctor, the green keeper at the local golf course and a automotive technician all  got in common?
They all use a diagnostic process within their profession. Paul Hollywood is often seen as a judge within baking competitions. He uses his experience and process to perform a diagnosis on why a bread is not cooked correctly.
Meanwhile, a doctor uses a diagnostic process to find an illness. A green keeper uses a diagnostic process to determine why the grass does not grow as green as it should, while a automotive technician performs a diagnostic process to find the fault on a vehicle.

Let’s begin to go through the steps of the diagnostic process.

Step 1: Customer questioning

Being able to question the driver of the vehicle of the fault is always a very important part of the diagnostic process. Using a well-structured and documented series of questions can determine how the fault should be approached. Many experienced technicians do this part very well, but when a business becomes bigger, the customer’s information on a fault can get lost  when passed between the receptionist and the workshop.
A document can be developed to perform this task, and is often the solution here.
A customer has often seen a ‘warning lamp’ on the dash. They can only remember that it was an amber colour and it looked like a steering wheel. The document shown has a variety of warning light symbols that they can simply highlight to let the technician know of the MIL symbol and in the circumstances that the fault occurs (driving uphill around a right-hand bend etc).
Much of the diagnostic process is about building a picture before the vehicle is worked on. Trying to fix the fault by jumping to step 4 or step 5 can often neglect what the customer has to say. One of the last steps in the diagnostic process is to confirm that the fault has been correctly repaired and will not occur again (‘first time fix’). How can the fix be successfully tested if the circumstances where  the fault occurred are not replicated during the final stages of the process?
The MIL illuminating again (recurring fault) when the vehicle is driven by the customer is not always as easy to fix a second time, as you need to fix the vehicle fault as well as fix the customer, who has been forced to return.

Step 2: Confirm the fault
Some technicians just seem to take the fault highlighted as by the job card (or similar document) and diagnose the fault without first confirming, which can take some time to complete. This step might involve a road test to confirm that the fault exists. The apparent fault may be just a characteristic of the vehicle or the receptionist/customer may have explained the fault to be on the other side of the vehicle.
Therefore, it is imperative that the technician confirms that the fault exists and the situation that the
fault exists within, all providing additional information on building
the picture before actually working
on the vehicle.

Step 3: Know the system and its function
In order to fix a vehicle fault(s) a technician will first need to understand how the system works. If a technician doesn’t know how the system works how can they fix it?
Don’t be shy or foolish and indicate that a technician knows everything (even on a specific manufacturer brand). Every technician sometimes needs to either carry out new system training or just have a reminder on how a system works.  
With all the systems now fitted to a vehicle, it’s not surprising that a technician cannot remember every system and its function especially to a specific vehicle manufacturer or the model within the range. A technician may just need to remind themselves on the system operation or fully research the vehicle system.
Most vehicle manufacturers will provide information on how a particular system works and how that system integrates (if applicable) with other systems of the vehicle. Spending some time researching the system can pay dividends in terms of time spent diagnosing the system and it is also educational. System functionality can often be learnt from attending training courses but if these are not available the information can be sourced from various other sources such as websites.
External training courses can provide additional benefits especially discovering how a system operates and understanding its functionality and how the various components work. They will also allow the technician to focus on the specific system without the distraction of customers or colleagues.
Once the system is thoroughly understood, the technician may be able to make some judgements as which components are ok and those which may be faulty and affect the system operation.

Just to recap on the three diagnosis steps covered in this article, these were:
Step 1: Customer questioning
Step 2: Confirm the fault
Step 3: Know the system and its function

Remember to follow the process and don’t try to short circuit it. Some steps my take longer to accomplish than others and some may be outside of your control (it may be necessary to educate others). Practice, practice, practice. Refine the process to fit in with your business and its practices, align your estimating/cost model to the process to be able to charge effectively.

Next steps
In the next article I will be looking at the next four steps which are seen to be:
Step 4: Gather evidence    
Step 5: Analyse the evidence
Step 6: Plan the test routine
Step 7: System testing

The last article in this series will indicate the final three steps and how to fit them all together in order to become a great technician and perhaps win Top Technician or Top Garage in 2018. Go to to enter this year’s competition. The first round is open until the end of February 2018.
Every entry is anonymous so have a go!

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    Considering what the industry as a whole has to offer, you’d think young people would be flooding in: “The motor industry has over 250 different job roles that can offer young people a life-long career,” says Steve, “whether that’s in a technician role or management, designer or marketing. Businesses in the motor industry are a shining example of what can be provided through quality training and apprenticeships. We’ve had plenty of practise in providing these training programmes that have allowed us to grow to be one of the largest sectors operating in the UK. Businesses in the automotive industry are certainly well-rehearsed when it comes to adapting to any new changes that are introduced, whether that’s the Levy or Standards that have recently been implemented.”     

    Young people are not going to come our way if they don’t know that however: “The government has removed nearly all careers advice available in schools around the UK,” Steve points out, “and this is having a huge impact on young people. The IMI surveyed parents and young people to find that over 80% of parents said they would choose the university route over an apprenticeship for their children, so it’s clear that transforming apprenticeships alone isn’t enough to breakdown the stigmas associated with vocational learning.

    “Government are continuously reviewing the apprenticeship model, and automotive businesses like Rolls-Royce remain at the heart of these changes. It’s important we’re doing our upmost to transform apprenticeships, and the IMI are confident that the dedication shown by businesses will help attract more young people.”

    So what about technician licensing? It’s already on its way to being reality in one corner of our industry: “The IMI is currently lobbying for a Licence to Practise for vehicle technicians working on electric and hybrid vehicles. Without regulation and a minimum training standard, there are significant safety risks for technicians who may not have any form of training before coming into contact with high-voltage vehicles.

    “The motor industry deserves recognition for their individual training and skills when it comes to working on such advanced technology. The licensing scheme would provide that credibility, as well as offering other benefits to the individual technician who are trained and qualified to work on low-emission vehicles. Benefits include the fact that businesses would be keen to recruit them in order to allow the business to service and maintain these vehicles, and as we’ve seen lately that the appetite for electric and hybrid vehicles shows no sign of slowing down considering their has been as increase of 35%
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    "We have quite a few problems as an industry. Firstly, the push towards university-based futures from 10-15 years ago took almost all of the young talent away. At the same time there was a lack of decent apprenticeships so there were even less young people contemplating a career in automotive, specifically in the garage repair sector. Coupled to that is the lack of upward mobility for those dynamic young people who want to progress and not just stay on the tools or the front desk. Thirdly we pay very low as an industry compared with other sectors.”  

    Do we need to think bigger?

    “If we don’t raise the status of our industry collectively, then how are we going to recruit the next generation of people regardless what side of the fence you’re sitting," observes Andy.  “In Germany you can't own or manage a garage unless you have completed a three-year degree in Automotive Engineering, which combines business modules too. People in these roles are held in
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    Outside of the lack of careers advice, those working in our educational institutions tend to have a very narrow view of the industry that does not help says Andy: "When I speak at schools and colleges, and I get given a group of youngsters, the teacher usually says something like 'these are the kids that are not going to go to university we thought the motor trade may suit them.’ It's not like that now, it's men in white coats. There is probably more computer power in a car now than in most general offices, but people don't look at it like that.

    “The outside world seems to think that if you are not academically minded, and there is nothing wrong with that, then the motor industry is fine for you. They are given the impression that it is low skilled career, but it is far from that.”
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    “On remuneration, most garage owners will then pay the same as everyone else because it is the going rate, or even cap technician salaries regardless of skill, age and knowledge. This attitude limits the pool of people who can attract and usually means a whirlwind of the same people going around for a few hundred quid extra or a couple of hours off during the week.”
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    All or nothing
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    “Having attended many recruitment seminars on ‘attracting the millennial and Gen Y generations’ the consensus of opinion is that younger people are on the whole attracted to careers that offer personal development, training, transparency of duties and ‘an employer that holds and demonstrates good values and ethics.’  Licencing, if promoted correctly via schools, colleges and through successful marketing could aid recruitment from emerging generations into the aftermarket.”

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    Don’t stop what you’re doing
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    The IGA is working towards helping widen the net: “The IGA is working with the Armed Forces to consider how best to address the particular need for MOT testers by helping to retrain skilled and experienced military vehicle fitters to aid in their transition to civilian life and this will work alongside an initiative with a major recruitment company.”

    While careers advice in schools has been found wanting as we have seen, Terry believes the industry itself is going in the right direction promoting the importance of training and development, so at least existing staff in the sector continue to upskill: “The messages spread by trade bodies and by the specialist trade press focuses heavily on training and development and this article is a good example of that. The opening of the RMI’s Academies of Automotive Skills shows that the industry is promoting training and development for existing technicians.

    On licensing, Terry observes: “While blanket licensing might, over  time raise the perception of the technician role,  we do not believe it would be a major influencing factor in deciding on an automotive career for young people today – although in the absence of such licensing anywhere in our industry makes it difficult to predict its effects.”

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