Editor’s Note: Read RV Daily Report’s entire report on the service tech shortage by clicking here.
By Ronnie Wendt
Terry Cooper, also known as The RV Professor, has more than a few passions. He’s passionate about Jesus; his wife, Evada, whom he affectionately calls “Lady E;” his children; and he’s passionate about the RV industry.
But these days Cooper is a little worried about one of his passions. As of today, the RV industry has 13,520 service techs, but the number of RV-owning households is estimated at 8.9 million. This means the average service technician is responsible for maintaining and servicing an estimated 658 RVs. Cooper says that number is simply too high, if the industry wants to provide customers with high quality service after the sale.
Cooper adds he is deeply concerned about what will happen if the industry doesn’t find a way to push more techs into the it.
“I think this industry could take a downward spiral, because people will turn to some other form of entertainment. Whether they buy an RV or something else will be determined by how well we service them; how well we take care of our customer,” he says.
Cooper is also someone who acts rather than sits on the sidelines.
He and business partner, Steve Anderson, who owns Workamper News, along with their wives, Evada and Kathy Jo, purchased a 75-site RV park in Athens, Texas, to launch the National RV Training Academy, which he hopes will aid the industry in readying techs more quickly.
He explains, “If we want this industry to continue to grow, we’ve got to be able to support it on the back end. We have to be able to take care of customers after they buy their RV as much as we help them buy the unit in the first place.”
“Absolutely a God Thing”
Though a fixed site is new, the program itself is not. Cooper has been traveling the United States providing training to those working in RV dealership service centers as part of the Mobile RV Academy. He also went to RV parks to teach his program. Business was booming but finding a site to host the course was becoming a challenge.
“We would go in and rent the park’s activity room or the conference center, then reserve sites for our students,” he says. “But over the last two to three years, we’ve seen fewer and fewer parks available. We’d come to parks we’d used before and they didn’t have a clubhouse anymore because they’ve turned it into something else. They also had stopped doing daily or weekly rentals and wanted people to commit for a season.”
He adds, “So, we were having problems finding a place to host a meeting and have the RVs come in, but the RVs are what students used for their labs.”
It was in this space that the idea for a fixed location took shape and the Coopers, who also own RV Daily Report, began looking for an RV park to buy. Texas seemed a logical location, but their realtor told them there was nothing available.
Until there was.
As Cooper shared his vision at the Dallas RV Show, a man came up and said he was staying at a park that was up for sale. A few days later, Greg Gerber, the former owner of RV Daily Report, told the Coopers the same thing.
That park was the Texan RV Park, and when the Andersons and Coopers looked at it, they immediately noticed two things: 1) It was already a working, functioning RV park, which would allow them to begin hosting classes immediately. It even had a clubhouse that could meet the course’s primary needs. 2) It also had four available acres toward the front where they could build a permanent structure, that when complete will be known as the Big Red Schoolhouse and Community Center.
The couples have since renovated existing sites and have added 33 additional RV sites and several cabins to accommodate students. The 12,000-square-foot school house has three separate classrooms and a very large bay area (three service bays) that can hold RVs.
“We can hold classes in the classroom and then step into the bay area where students can apply what they have learned,” Cooper says. “One of the problems we had with the mobile academy is we had to depend on the students’ RVs the students for the labs. By having units in our service bay, and parts and pieces students can work on, we can control what is taught. It doesn’t have to vary from coach to coach.”
They also have installed fiber-optic lines to bring in high-speed Internet service to enable the academy to live-stream video education to students and dealerships worldwide.
The streaming capabilities are among the things that PJ Buerger, the general manager and owner of Princess Craft, an RV dealership located in Round Rock, Texas, really appreciates. As president of the Texas RV Association as well, she says it can be very difficult for dealers she works with to send technicians for training, especially during the busy season, so she likes the idea of the training coming to them.
“This feature allows them to work during the day and train in the evenings,” she says. “I only have four technicians, so if I send one or two off for training, that can be a huge issue.”
The Coopers’ maintain a philosophy of treating others the way they themselves would like to be treated; one never knows when your paths will cross again. This philosophy has served them well. Thanks to the generosity of a foundation managed by two former Mobile Academy students, the $770,000 in construction costs were covered by a grant.
“It’s absolutely a God thing,” says Cooper. “While we were in the process of raising money and securing financing for the project, we approached two individuals who had completed training several months earlier and are now working as RV inspectors. When they learned the purpose of our mission, they agreed to cover the entire cost of building the Big Red School House and the Community Center.”
The National RV Training Academy now has 501(3)(c) status, achieved by guaranteeing that a percentage of the center’s activity will support nonprofit organizations. “That is why we added the community center to the project,” Cooper says.
Intensive Hands-on Training
The National RV Training Academy offers an intensive five-week, hands-on program at its new state-of-the-art training facility in the Texas RV Park. The program is designed to train techs in everything from water systems, to electrical to propane systems, to air conditioners and refrigeration, slide-outs and roofs. Cooper says the entire program is based on the RVIA/RVDA certification curriculum, which prepares students to test for the RVDA/RVIA certification exams.
“After the first week, they will be prepared and ready to start studying for the RVDA/ RVIA registered technician exam,” says Cooper. “Once they complete the fifth week, they’re fully ready to sit for their certified technician exam. Our goal is to give them a chance to take both exams at the proper time so that when they complete their course and their apprenticeship program, they have credentials as an RV technician.”
Kevin Ketner, vice president of Ancira RV in Boerne, Texas, stresses this program helps dealers by providing techs with ongoing training as they work for them. “A dealer can put a tech through a program like the National RV Training Academy then couple this education with its own apprentice program to help a tech learn the ropes and make a living without getting frustrated. There is just so much to learn—and the learning curve is so fast, that you need a way to give these folks a basis to work from,” says the chair of the Texas RV Association’s Education Committee.
The five-week program is broken into one-week modules. Cooper explains, “It would be ideal if we could bring everyone in and spend five weeks training them, then deliver them to a mentor at the dealership, but that’s not the reality we live in,” he says.
Week One: RV Maintenance Course
This course serves as the basic core for the RV Apprenticeship Technician Program for the RV professional. It is also a course for the consumer, who desires to take care of their RV and possibly go on to becoming an RV inspector, gaining certification through the NRVIA (National RV Inspectors Association); or who is interested in becoming an RV maintenance technician for campgrounds.
This week is split up so that students spend two days on electrical because Cooper explains “these units have three electrical systems and they need to be able to under-stand how they interact with each other as well as how they operate separately.”
Students learn to use a multimeter, and Cooper says though this should be standard issue in every RV dealership, many times RV techs come to them without a multimeter in their tools. “They don’t even own one, and they don’t always know how to operate one,” he says. “When I ask them how they do the work without one, they say they ask another tech to do it for them. But that’s not how you develop a team. Everybody needs to learn how to use the basic tools for this industry.”
The week then digs into propane because that’s the other energy source found on RVs. Here, Cooper introduces students to manometers, which are gas pressure testers. “These things are only $60 but many technicians do not own one,” he says. “But how can you know if an RV has a propane leak without one?”
He then provides an overview on water systems and how they work. He explains that an RV has two separate water systems, a freshwater and a sewer water system. “They need to know how they function and how they’re plugged in and how to repair the plumbing,” he says.
Later, he talks about air conditioners, which he says often do not function quite right, making it essential that a technician knows what to look for, how to test for efficiency and so on.
The course takes them on an overview of refrigerators. RV refrigerators operate differently than the ones found in the kitchen of a sticks-and-bricks home, and students need to know about these differences to test and correct their operation.
When students complete this week, they are ready for their first RVIA/RVDA test—the registered technician test. This exam establishes that the technician is proficient in core knowledge areas such as propane, basic electrical, fire and life safety, weight knowledge and other technical skills as outlined in the RVST Standard/ DACUM.
Follow-up courses can be taken intermittently in tandem with an RV tech’s apprenticeship at the dealership. These weeks cover the following:
- Week Two: Air Conditioners and Heat Pumps: Component testing of the compressor, capacitors, PTCR (starter relay), overload protector, freeze control thermistor, reversing valve, thermostat and control box, selector switches and fan motor.
- Week Three: RV Absorption Refrigerators: Troubleshooting of temperature controls, heat source operations, along with diagnosing and replacing the rear cooling coil. Proper installation and venting procedures.
- Week Four: Water Heaters and Furnaces. Water Heaters: Gas and electric operation, testing of circuit board, thermostat/ECO and electrode. Troubleshooting and maintenance procedures. Furnaces: Gas operation, testing of the circuit board, sail switch, high temperature switch, electrode and blower motor. Troubleshooting and maintenance procedures.
- Week Five: Exterior Systems. Slide Outs: Types/drive systems and override procedures for Schwintek, hydraulic ram, cable, electric screw and geared motors. Leveling Systems: Types/drive operation and override procedures for LCI hydraulic and electric. Running Gear: Axles, suspension, and tires. Roofs: Types of roofing materials, repairs, and aftermarket coatings. Sidewalls: Construction types of walls, windows, and doors.
After completing all five modules, Cooper says students are ready to take the certified technician test, which is a comprehensive test designed to evaluate both general and specific knowledge as outlined in the RVST Standard/DACUM. If a tech passes, they are a certified tech. But if they score a 90 or above and have five years of documented experience as an RV service technician, they can obtain master certified technician status.
Cooper underscores the importance of this training by saying, “Eighty percent of the problems we have in RVs are easy to access and easy to fix, if somebody would just show us how,” he says. “But to do that, you must get hands on…this is how a refrigerator works, this is how an air conditioner works, this is how the water heater fires, this is how the furnace fires and so on.”
Help from the Industry
For the program to be successful, the National RV Training Academy needs the industry’s help. The academy is looking for donated equipment that students can use to diagnose and repair during class- es. All donations are fully tax deductible as charitable contributions because of its nonprofit status.
“This course is very hands on. Students take things apart, troubleshoot them and fix them,” he says. “We need furnaces as well as the thermostat that goes with them. We need water heaters and the controls that come with them. We need air conditioners, not only the unit, but the packaging that goes on the roof and the controls for the unit. We need every make, model of refrigerator out there. We need slide-out systems and leveling systems.”
He adds, “If you’re going to teach someone how to work on these things, they have to be able to put their hands on it. They can’t just read a manual and look at a picture because it’s not the same. A hands-on learner needs to touch it, feel it and operate it.”
Companies have already stepped up to donate equipment, reports Cooper. Manufacturers such as DRV Luxury Suites and Cruiser have asked for a list of needed equipment to support the training effort. Princess Craft has donated a new, never-been-titled, travel trailer. As the keys were handed over to Cooper, Bueger said, “Let Texas be the first to say, ‘We are all in.’ ” Cooper adds they will also accept donated RVs from RV owners. Students would perform the repairs as part of their education then the units would be resold or given away.
“We see this as a win-win for everyone involved,” he stresses. “It’s a win for RV manufacturers looking to unload repairable RVs, and receive a tax write off or training credit. It’s a win for the Big Red School House because we get state-of-the- art equipment for our students to use. And it’s a win for nonprofit organizations who can get the gift of a certified pre-owned RV to use in their missions and projects.”
For more information on specific equipment needs or to donate a recreation vehicle, contact Cooper at email@example.com or call (254) 715-7388.
Learn more about the National RV Training Academy at http://nrvta.com/