The hands-on part of the workshop is a very important part of ISL’s service training, and all of the ISL training centers have approximately 20 split systems.
It's not often you hear contractors gush over a training class. Most business owners know it's necessary to attend various classes in order to keep their employees and themselves up-to-date on the latest service techniques and equipment, but they don't often rave over the experience.

Over the last two years, though, people have been talking about the service classes available through International Service Leadership (ISL). Contractors from around the country have mentioned how much they and their technicians have learned from the classes and how they've been able to apply that information directly to their jobs.

Most of the credit for ISL's successful service classes can be traced back to Duff Maynard, ISL's director of training in Brentwood, Tenn. Since 2001, he and his staff have revamped all the curricula for the classes. He is also in the process of creating new curricula for higher-level service classes, as well as classes for the support positions in a contracting firm.

Figure 1. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs dictates that people do not feel the needs at higher levels until the needs of the lower levels have been satisfied.

Classes Based On Needs

Maynard's classes differ from other types of classes in that he has based them all on Maslow's hierarchy of needs. In a nutshell, psychologist Abraham Maslow set up a hierarchy of five levels of basic needs. In these levels, the person does not feel the second need until the demands of the first have been satisfied, nor the third until the second has been satisfied, and so on. The hierarchy takes the form of a triangle. (See Figure 1.)

Based on this triangle, humans must first meet their basic needs of food, shelter, and clothing before they can start thinking about other issues. "What Maslow was saying is you can't satisfy a need in the ‘belongingness' category if you're starving to death," explained Maynard. "You have to satisfy the needs in an order, or in a hierarchy."

Maynard started thinking about it as if he were to hire a service technician who was brand new to the industry. He asked himself, "What are some of the basic things that a new hire should know?" He came up with six categories service technicians should master before moving forward: basic safety, basic mechanical refrigeration, basic electricity, combustion and venting, air distribution systems, and EPA certification. (See Figure 2.)

These six categories are taught as self-study courses through ISL. Technicians study the books on their own, then take the 25-question final exam (proctored at their local company) and mail it to ISL. The self-study courses are ISL's equivalent of Maslow's basic needs. Once those needs are met, the technician is allowed to attend the "Service I Workshop," which is the next level up on the triangle.

Rick Kincel, a lead instructor at ISL's Phoenix Technical Center, said the self-study curriculum lays a foundation of basic information that the technician can build on. "This is available as a self-study program so the general managers do not have to bear the burden of longer classes that quality students could very comfortably do on their own."

Maynard added that the self-study courses allow all students to be at the same level when attending the instructor-led workshops. "When they take the self-study courses, we can now have an instructor-led workshop that's 30-percent lecture and 70-percent hands-on. Without doing the theory first in self-study, we were spending 80 percent in lecture and 20-percent hands-on."

The hands-on part of the workshop, of course, is a very important part of service training. All of the ISL training centers have approximately 20 split systems, so each of the 12 students in class has their own to work on. Since technicians normally go to a customer's house on their own, Maynard says it makes sense for their formal lab work to be done on their own. (The extra units are available for more advanced students who are ready to move on to the next problem.)

Figure 2. ISL’s technician training model is based on a triangle: All the classes must be completed in this particular hierarchy, starting from the bottom up. Inside the triangle are the skill sets that ISL is trying to develop. On the left side of the triangle is the training process that will be used to develop those skills, and on the right side are the performance expectations.

Class Offerings

Maynard has identified 17 different positions in a service center, from the general manager to the operations manager, service manager, dispatcher, and warehouse worker. "We've created triangles for each one of these positions. So far we've finished with the technician model (Figure 2), the installer model, the general manager's model, the plumbing model for residential plumber, and the comfort advisor model. We're working on the rest," he said.

Most of those who attend these service seminars come because they want to work smarter, not harder, said Kincel. Mark Bowman, a NATE-certified senior HVAC technician at Air Engineers in Jacksonville, Fla., said he attended the classes because he wanted to learn more about the technical formulas and data to go along with the knowledge he has gained in the field. He also wanted to become NATE certified.

"Most of us who have practiced in the field know about subcooling and superheat and so forth, but we don't necessarily know the why's behind it, and that is what ISL gives you. It helps you apply and practice the right things in the right situation," said Bowman.

Bowman's co-worker, Victor Smith, is also a NATE-certified technician. Smith said he liked meeting others in his field from around the nation. "The networking is good in these seminars," he said. "You learn more about what other companies and techs are doing, what works for others. You end up trading a lot of tips with each other."

Smith said that the instructors are exceptionally good at helping students understand the concepts and principles they are teaching. "My experience with ISL is different from other training because the focus is really on learning. There is never a hint of a product sales pitch," he noted.

For those technicians who would like to complete the ISL training triangle but are beyond the basic self-study level, Maynard has created an assessment tool that will determine where in the triangle the technician should start.

"My vision is that every employee in every one of our companies will have a triangle in their personnel folder, and that will be their training plan," said Maynard. "Every time they take a course, we'll scan it in and give them a new triangle."

For example, technicians who complete all the self-study courses and then take the Service I Workshop would have the word "complete" stamped over all the self-study boxes as well as over the three boxes for the workshop. Maynard believes this tool will allow managers to easily keep track of the next training step for each employee.

"It's a cool tool, and the folks love it," said Maynard. "The result is great training and a program that gives a lot of information to the manager."

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Publication date: 03/29/2004