This article appeared in RV Daily Report’s special edition, which takes a closer look at the RV service technician shortage. Read the full issue by clicking here.
By Shea Garrett
Most people only dream of winning $10,000 in a competition. And, if they did win, it would come as a complete and total surprise. But for the man who won the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association’s (RVIA’s) Top Tech Challenge, he had a gut feeling he was going to win from the beginning. Not because he was over-confident but because he says he has always been blessed and able to prosper.
Brandon Galbreath squared off against the best of the best. The competitors faced a total of seven technical problems over the two rounds and had to troubleshoot each problem and tell the judge what needed to be done to fix it. Galbreath troubleshooted through three main challenges: a water heater fault, a 12-volt fault, and even a refrigerator fault with ease, and emerged victo- rious in the end. He scored 230.59 points out of a possible 294, edging out John Larson from
The 2018 winner attributes this confidence to his faith not his repair skills. He says that God directs his choices and decisions, which he says doesn’t make him righteous but blessed. He says it was his faith in a higher power that filled him with the confidence to triumph in the tech competition.
Though eight people made it to the finals in the Top Tech Challenge, only one could be named Top Tech. Despite the best efforts of all parties participating, God seemed to have one winner in mind—Brandon Galbreath. This Guntersville, Alabama, tech, from D&N RV Service, persevered throughout the entire challenge and took home first prize, leaving Galbreath as the industry’s reigning Top Tech for all of 2018.
The savvy and smart RV tech says he became interested in the Tech Challenge, sponsored by Airxcel, Dometic, Lippert Components and Thetford, after receiving an email in-viting him to participate and detailing how to enter. In October of 2017, he found out he made it into Top 8.
In the competition, held at the 2017 National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Kentucky, November 27-30, Nevada Mobile RV Service in Minden, Nevada, who scored 213.75; and Joshua Bedsaul from RVs Unlimited in Foley, Alabama, who earned 186.44 points.
RV Daily Report recently chatted with Galbreath about being the industry’s Top Tech, what it’s like to be an RV technician, and how to get more young people interested in the field.
Q. What do you enjoy most about being an RV service tech?
A. It’s a different challenge every time. It doesn’t matter if it’s the same model, everything about the repair will be slightly different. But while it’s a different challenge in every scenario, it always holds true to facts. It’s not like English class, where things would change. Like, the rule that it’s ‘I before E, except after C.’ Then the next year it was like well, we’re going to learn it this way now. So, the rules changed. I didn’t care for that. But physics and gravity and all those things apply to RVs–always. It doesn’t change.
You have the mechanism that moves the RV. You have the seal system. And you have the box, the room itself. Every one of those areas can have its own challenges. Maybe it’s fitting in the hole wrong, or maybe the mechanism is breaking, but why? What’s causing it? A tech needs to be able to figure those things out.
Q. Do you believe there is a tech shortage? What are you seeing at D&N RV?
A. Let me preface that with, D&N RV is a very small shop. We have one bay and two to four techs at the most. So, I’m not like some big shot who sees 100 different techs a year because the shop has a rollover of 75 people. You know what I mean? But, I’ve heard stories of people having a 200 percent turnover. They would hire, basically, 200 people throughout the course of the year. At the end of that year, not one of them would be there anymore. That’s got to be a nightmare. I’m not really experiencing that.
My experience is a little different. I’ll begin to interview people for a position to work with me. But I’m very, very picky about the work that goes out. So much so that others at the shop get on me and say, ‘We have to get some production.’ And I say, ’Well, if it ain’t right, it ain’t leaving, period.’ Finding a person that’s willing to put up with that is a difficult thing. Now, we could hire all kinds of people to just come in and play the clown for a while, but that makes my productivity worse. So, I am very slow to hire. I’ve hired maybe six people in the last four years. Hiring the right person from the get-go keeps them with us.
Q. What do you look for in a service technician?
A. They got to learn how to, or show me, that they know how to shut up and just listen. Then they shouldn’t take over as soon as they think they got a hold of it. So, it’s attention to detail and patience. Patience is huge because if you’re not patient, some of these engines are just crazy fragile, and you’ll quickly do $500-600 damage, or damage the computer board. On some of these buses, you take out a computer board, and it’s going to cost $10,000 for a new one. So, if the system is obsolete or something like that, you got to take it all out and start over.
There are some areas where an RV is really touchy. So, I demand that the person that’s going to learn from me listen, and watch. As soon as they can figure out which tool I’m going to need before I need it, it’s time for them to start doing some of the work. They got to have a lot of patience. Imagine you’re hiring a personal assistant. They’d have to watch you for three to four months before they figured out what you’re going to want, before you ask. I mean, they’ll get you coffee in two days, but knowing what you need, before you need it, takes time.
Q. What programs did you go through to become a certified RV Service technician?
A. D&N RV Service is a family run business that started out working on boats back in the 90s, but found a greater need for an RV service in the Joppa, Alabama, area. I have been working in the RV industry since 2001 and received my Master Certification in 2016.
My certification came as a culmination of many, many, many things. I never was formally trained as an RV technician, but I had a HAM Radio Operator license. That’s radio theory, electrical theory, all that very to the minutia because we had to build our own antennas and all kinds of stuff. So that, and then working my way up through formal education in electronics on the digital side, and working as a carpenter, helped. I was a helper for the first couple of years at the shop starting when I was 13 years old. Then, from there, it just kept on and on. I never got formally trained, but I have a very broad base from the different things that I did before I even graduating from high school.
My work as an RV service tech is also a testament to my dad. He is a very, very knowledgeable man in a million different places. He was always challenging me with this or that. If it was a boat motor that had to be tore apart, we’d get into it. If it was a computer that internally had failed, we would fix it. A lot of kids don’t have that influence anymore.
Q. How can the RV industry find the right people to work as RV service technicians?
A. This is going to sound horrible to say. I got two teenage boys. They will work, and they will work hard. But most of the folks that I see around, they just won’t. If they won’t work, it doesn’t matter what you do to attract them, you’re not going to get a good product out of them. If you don’t get a good product out of them, it doesn’t matter whether they show up or not because it’s not a good product.
The one thing young people really need to learn before they graduate high school is standard math and English, so they have the basics of being able to communicate, and how to work. How to get up every morning and be wherever you got to be, 10 to 15 minutes before you’re supposed to be there, and do what you’re supposed to do plus just a little bit more, every single time. They need to know that you don’t leave until the job is done. If they’ll learn that, everything else is trivial. There are a lot of things techs do that honestly are not that technical. It’s just a matter of being disciplined enough to take it through all the steps in the repair.
Q. Any words of wisdom for today’s RV service techs?
A. If there’s training available by the manufacturers, go get it and pay attention. They cover some pretty good stuff. There’s a big push right now in RVIA to try to get more training for people, and that kind of stuff, and it looks pretty exciting.
I think part of what’s going to have to happen is the dealerships themselves are going to have to hear from the customers saying, ‘We want better technicians working on our stuff.’ In the places that aren’t having problems with RVs coming back after being worked on, they’ve got it figured out and good for them. But I hear a lot of customers that come in, who travel all over the country, and they share some real horror stories. They’ll say, ‘We took it to this place five times, and they never did fix the thing that they were supposed to fix.’ That’s a problem.
Shea Garrett will be a junior at Kettle Moraine High School in the fall, where she will be attending a charter school with a focus on writing. She plans to major in journalism upon graduation.