At 17, Ronald Garner was a mechanic's helper at an independent repair shop that serviced Rolls-Royce cars. At 40, he is a professor in the Advanced Automotive Technology Center at Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport.
With his father, a retired professor of education administration, Mr. Garner has written two textbooks on automotive technology management for car dealership service managers and advisers. Mr. Garner recently spoke with Automotive News, a sister publication of Tire Business, about his work and the importance of training for service department employees.
Why did you write these books?
``Unlike most schools, our affiliation as a Pennsylvania State University campus permits us to offer bachelor's degrees in automotive technology management. My heading the program drove the creation of the materials. Other programs also were coming of age. (My publisher) said, `Would you take the materials you've been developing all these years and put them into a book?'''
Why don't more colleges offer degrees in automotive technology?
``As the (car dealership) service department becomes more sophisticated, there is going to be more of a demand. Technological innovations, initiatives that show greater commitment to customer service and a desire to improve service efficiency training are three reasons to be bullish on service.''
Parents and high school counselors often steer young people away from becoming service technicians. How do you dispel the grease monkey image?
``Today we're combining computers with automotive systems. The industry is changing and evolving. We're going to see that there is more acceptance of this being a good career path for those who are analytically minded and mechanically gifted.''
Can you teach someone to be a service consultant or technician in a classroom? Isn't it a matter of hands-on training?
``Many times, customers come to the service department very frustrated. The service consultant has to be a people person to be able to work through that frustration and get the information needed for the technician to do a good job. The books bring out the basics of this process, but this is something people need to practice and be around.
``We run our own garage in-house. We work on faculty cars and students' cars and sometimes (the cars of) non-profits around the city. Our students learn to fix cars in a professional manner. They work with the customers who come to our college to get work done.''
What are the career paths of your students?
``We have course work in training, statistics and scientific data collection. My graduates work as trainers, automotive instructors, field service engineers for the major manufacturers, as well as district service representatives. They work as service consultants and service managers. Some own their own service facilities.''