LOUISVILLE, Ky.—Sometime early this spring, perhaps late March or early April, North America's first-ever class of ``Certified Commercial Tire Technicians'' will complete its training, testing and certification in Louisville under a new industry program. Members of that select group—probably 15 or 20 strong—also will have taken part in special ``Train the Trainer'' ses-sions, equipping them to provide local training for fellow commercial tire service workers, so they, too, can apply for certification without having to leave home.
Those successfully completing the program will be authorized to wear a colorful patch proclaiming their status as a ``Certified Tire Technician,'' not unlike similar patches warn by certified auto service technicians.
The International Tire and Rubber Association, which conceived of the new training and certification program and will administer it once the current development phase is completed, hopes to have all the elements in place by the end of March.
Chief among these is a new commercial tire service manual, the Commercial Tire Service Process Manual, that serves as the basis for both training and testing and also is designed to be carried by technicians into the field for ready reference.
The manual contains information drawn from virtually every segment of the industry, such as the Occupational Health & Safety Administration's tire and wheel safety regulations, Wheel and Rim Association manuals, the Tire & Rim Association year book, Rubber Manufacturers Association technical advisories, National Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association training videos and the Tire Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Associations. It also has material published by tire makers as well as retread and repair material suppliers.
``That's why we're saying this is not just an ITRA program,'' said the association's Executive Director, Marvin Bozarth. ``We're going to administer it, but all the material is already out there in the industry. We're just going to bring that material together with the OSHA regulations and everything and put it into a usable form.''
As an aid in providing trainees with hands-on experience, he said, the ITRA has constructed a miniature, three-axle chassis whose 11 tire and wheel assemblies embody virtually all the axle and hub configurations North America's commercial tire technicians are likely to encounter.
While the industry's first training sessions will take place at the ITRA's Louisville headquarters, with subsequent testing at the nearby University of Louisville, future candidates for certification should be able to obtain training and certification virtually anywhere in the U.S., according to ITRA Commercial Tire Service Director Kevin Rohlwing.
The association, he said, is developing a list of colleges, universities, trade schools and other educational facilities offering test-proctoring services. This will permit technicians to train for the examination at their own pace, then arrange to take the certification test locally—perhaps during the evening after work or on a weekend.
Testing will be ``open book,'' allowing the certification candidate to look up the correct answers in the ITRA-furnished tire service manual.
The purpose of the exam is not to make certain the technician knows the answer to every question, Mr. Rohlwing said. Rather, it is to demonstrate that the technician knows how to find the answers in his or her service manual.
``We don't expect them to memorize all of this information,'' Mr. Rohlwing said. ``We want technicians to get used to using the manual as a reference.''
Auto mechanics, he pointed out, aren't required to have memorized every detail of all the systems on a vehicle. But good mechanics know how to obtain the information they need from service manuals and similar sources.
He said the ITRA currently is awaiting a determination from OSHA on how frequently recertification of technicians should take place.
The exact amount that candidates will pay for training and certification is another detail that has yet to be worked out. But several tire makers are talking about allowing dealers to make use of supplier funding to certify service employees, Mr. Rohlwing said.
In order to assure maximum credibility for the certification program, thereby allowing it to stand up under the critical scrutiny of plaintiffs' attorneys and others, ITRA sought the assistance of the National Certification Commission, a Bethesda, Md.-based organization made up of trade and professional associations that operate similar certification programs.
Many of the program's best features—such as the formation of an industry oversight committee for determining examination questions and the concept of having the testing administered locally by independent proctors at colleges and universities—resulted from the recommendations of that group, Mr. Rohlwing said.
Besides serving as the basis for granting certification to technicians, examination results also will provide valuable feedback on what subjects should receive increased emphasis in future training sessions. For example, if a sizable percentage of those taking the test score poorly in a particular subject area, instructors will know to step up training in that area.
The purpose of the industry-sponsored program, Mr. Rohlwing said, is to voluntarily raise the professional standards of commercial tire technicians without being told by government to do so, as recently happened in the Canadian province of Ontario.
``We don't need the government coming down on tire dealers with more regulations,'' he added.
Mr. Rohlwing said the ITRA hopes the program will improve the public image of commercial tire technicians so that independent dealerships can begin pricing such services profitably.
``There's a lot of money wasted by the trucking industry on poor service,'' he said. So training and certification will benefit both the buyer and seller of commercial tire services.