Slowly but surely, Internet-based employee training programs are starting to make inroads in tire dealerships and independent repair shops.
Within the next decade, the Tire Industry Association (TIA) hopes to have many, though not all, of its training courses available in Internet and the current video-workbook options, said Chris Marnett, TIA director of training.
At the moment, however, the only TIA training course with that option is its Basic Automotive Tire Service (ATS) training program, she said.
``We also have a parallel program for Basic Commercial Tire Service (CTS), but that currently is still video-workbook only,'' Ms. Marnett told Tire Business. ``At some point we will have an Internet option, probably a year or so from now.''
Not all of TIA's training programs are conducive to Web-based training, she noted. The Basic Automotive Tire and Commercial Tire Service programs are what the Bowie, Md.-based association calls ``200 Level'' courses, which are mostly classroom training. On the other hand, the ``300 Level'' certification programs in auto and commercial tires take place largely outside the classroom.
``Those programs are very hands-on, and we have to keep them that way because they are certification programs,'' she said.
Basic Earthmover Tire Service (ETS) training also should have an Internet option within a year or so, Ms. Marnett said. But ETS certification will not for the same reasons as ATS and CTS certification won't.
There aren't much data on exactly how many tire technicians have taken the Basic ATS course, which was introduced only last November, Ms. Marnett said. But right now about 60 percent of tire shops are opting for the video-workbook format and 40 percent for Web-based training, she added.
Larger tire dealerships prefer Internet-based training, she said, ``because it's easier for them to track. They can view everything online and keep up to date with whomever in their organization has taken the course. Whereas with video training, they get hard copies and it's up to them to monitor who's taking the course.''
TIA's current database is about nine months away from allowing such tracking, she added. The association is looking at partnering with other organizations-such as the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association, the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association and Northwoods University-to expand its Web-based training program, according to Roy E. Littlefield III, TIA executive vice president. But such discussions still are preliminary, he said.
Although it premiered only in May 2003, the ``Webinar'' program from the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) already is offering two to three Webcasts a month, said Pat Talaska, SEMA director of education.
The Webinar program, the SEMA Web site explains, offers Web-based conferences SEMA members can attend from their own computer desks. ``These Webinars are a perfect way for you to connect from your desktop to benefit from industry and business-related information,'' the Web site states. ``All you need to participate is an Internet Web browser and a telephone.''
Some of the most recent topics for SEMA Webinars include ``Identifying Profit Pools,'' ``Top 10 Things You Should Know About B2B E-Commerce,'' ``Save Money and Time: ABCs of Your Exhibitor Service Manual'' and training and preparation for the ASE A6 exam paper on electrical and electronic systems.
Last year SEMA did a member survey to determine which topics to offer in Webinars, Ms. Talaska said. An association ``SWAT Team'' reviewed the replies and put together the program.
The Webinar program offers auto aftermarket companies tremendous flexibility, according to Faith Barnese, SEMA vice president of education, membership councils and information technology.
``After a Webinar, it takes about a week to make a copy and put it up on the Web site,'' Ms. Barnese said. ``Then anyone can access it, any time of the day or night.'' SEMA only started to post old Webinars on its Web site this year, she added, ``but we haven't taken any one of them down yet.''
While Webinars are offered as a SEMA member benefit, the association doesn't require passwords to participate in or view one, Ms. Farnese noted. ``We're not limiting it at this point,'' she said. ``We're trying to get the word out.''
So far more than 1,200 SEMA member companies, out of 5,727 members overall, have participated in one or more Webinars, according to Ms. Farnese. ``But most companies have five or more employees watching the Web cast,'' she said. ``One company had 600 people listening in to our leadership development program.''
Though the Webinars so far have been very successful, SEMA plans to cut them back to two a month from the current two to three, according to Ms. Talaska. ``Our members are very busy, and it's asking too much of them to look at three Webinars a month,'' she said. ``Our idea is quality, not quantity.''
RTM Marketing, a Portland, Maine-based firm, specializes in providing Web-based training programs for tire dealers, covering every aspect of the business from installation to customer service and sales, according to Jeff Riddle, RTM president.
``We have training for every job in the tire store,'' Mr. Riddle said. ``We prepare orientation programs, allowing dealers to set the tone through the whole corporation from the CEO on down.... It takes a lot of the risk out of what they need to get done and gets the CEO's message across.''
The customer service and sales Web cast, similarly, covers verbal tactics to make the sale and gain the customer's confidence. ``A counter person at $8-$10 an hour needs a good example of how to get the job done,'' Mr. Riddle said.
May to September, normally the slowest season for tire and auto repair shops, is the period RTM conducts its live Web casts, Mr. Riddle said.
``When it's all done through the Internet, it gives you full feedback,'' he said. ``If you have more than 100 stores, it allows you to see when your employees sign on and how long they stay signed on.''