Recovery is Fueling Demand for More Trained Employees
A Special Q & A with Jeff Pastore, chairman of the Mike Molino RV Learning Center
Jeff Pastore of Hartville RV Center in Hartville, OH, discusses the RV market outlook, the growing need for trained, professional workers, and how the RV Learning Center fits in.
All signs point to another solid year of RV sales in 2014. What’s happening at RV dealerships in terms of hiring and training right now?
We’re seeing a recovery and increasing dealership employment. After some lean years, where many dealers had to cut back on personnel expense and training, there’s a demand for people in nearly all areas of dealership operations.
When you look at the sales volume of 2013 and what’s projected for this year, the industry is approaching pre-recessionary levels. So something has got to give – we have to hire more people to handle the business that’s out there.
Let’s take a quick look at RV technicians. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of RV techs is down by nearly a third from the peak of the mid to late 80s. At one time, there were more than 14,000 RV techs employed, but now it’s about 11,000. So the need to train new techs is a front-burner issue at many dealerships. There’s also a need for more people in fixed ops, sales, and other positions.
What’s the RV Learning Center’s role in technical training and certification?
Technician training and certification are key areas not only for the learning center, but for our partners at RVIA, FRVTA, and with state associations. We really try to be a one-stop information source.
A great place to start is RVTechnician.com, which is a joint effort of the learning center and RVIA. It has lots of information on association-sponsored training, the RVIA service text books, and RVDA-RVIA RV Technician Certification Program information. Another RVIA partnership is the RV Industry Training Calendar at RVTrainingCalendar.com, where industry suppliers and trainers can list all types of educational events and technical training. The learning center also publishes RV Technician
, an online magazine, six times per year.
For techs preparing for certification, the learning center registers and mentors participants in the RVIA-developed technician certification preparation courses on the online training site at OLT.RVST.org. More than 500 technicians are currently using the OLT for certification preparation or to earn continuing education credits.
The learning center also partners with FRVTA to market its Distance Learning Network platform nationally. More than 130 dealerships are enrolled this year, which is a nice increase from recent years. The learning center also supports state associations that sponsor local training – some recent examples included events in New England and Iowa and the Pennsylvania RV & Camping Association’s efforts with Northampton Community College.
What about other positions at the dealership? How does the learning center board prioritize where to put its resources?
The learning center has always sought to develop programs where there’s an identified need and to leverage industry partnerships to provide cost-effective resources for dealership employees and the industry.
For example, when an industry study showed that the service writer/advisor position is critical to customer satisfaction, the learning center partnered with The Ohio State University to analyze the skills required to perform that position at a high level. This was ultimately the first step in a series of learning center programs for employees in fixed operations.
The learning center supports other key dealership operations, especially when developing the program for the annual convention/expo. However, the board hasn’t focused resources in areas where there are many other options for dealers, such as sales training.
What can dealership employees look forward to this year from the RV Learning Center?
We’ve been developing a program for the convention/expo on management topics of interest to our new Young RV Executives group. These individuals are the future of RV retailing, and we’re focusing on leadership and human resources issues that would be valuable to new managers. We launched this at the 2013 convention because it’s important to help grow the next generation of RV dealers and managers.
We’re also looking at new ways to reward dealerships and employees that commit themselves to professional development. This is still in the planning stages, but the idea is to provide programming and networking opportunities for those who participate in continuing education, which helps grow the industry and creates happier customers.
We’re also working on a major update to the learning center’s popular Service Management Guide, or flat rate manual.
One of our major priorities is to increase participation in existing programs. Over the past eight years, at least 8,450 RV industry employees have been served by the learning center, but we know there are thousands more that we need to reach. The board believes that as the industry recovers, participation should improve, which will help offset the cost of sustaining and enhancing these programs.
We’ll always be grateful to our contributors, who kept the RV Learning Center in their charitable giving through the downturn. They are critical in making continuing education available and accessible to RV industry personnel.
Visit www.rvlearningcenter.com for more on all of the RV Learning Center’s programs.
This article appears in the May 2014 issue of RV Executive Today magazine.