By Greg Gerber
Editor, RV Daily Report
When I was in Dallas last month, I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Terry Cooper, president of Mobile RV Academy, and Steve Anderson, president of Workamper News. They were excited about a new project and wanted to share it with me.
The men are in the process of acquiring a campground outside of Dallas at which they plan to erect a large building to serve as the National RV Training Academy. The RV sites and cabins at the campground will give technicians a place to stay as they undergo training. The facility is located a little more than an hour from the Dallas-Fort Worth and Love Field airports, so people can easily fly in for training from all over the nation.
Cooper has been training RV technicians for more than a decade, starting at the Texas State Technical College in Waco, and then venturing out on his own with the Mobile RV Academy. He has taught the RV Industry Association certification program and is very familiar with the training needs of technicians.
For years, he has traveled the country attending RV shows and rallies as well as providing training at dealership facilities. Demand for training has overwhelmed his schedule.
So, he’s starting the National RV Training Academy to provide year-round professional training at a variety of levels for courses targeted to newbie RV owners to advanced training for technicians. He realizes that training venues are limited, except for a few schools in the Tampa area. Having a central location, he notes, will make it easier for people to get training.
Since I started with the industry in 2000, finding and training technicians has been a continual problem. Yes, there are some wonderful training opportunities available, especially with the Florida RV Trade Association and Pennsylvania RV and Camping Association. In fact, most state associations work to bring some training to their members.
Yes, there are some technical schools where people can get actual college degrees in RV maintenance. But, they are few and far between. Besides, which dealership can afford to send a student away for two years of training?
I agree with Cooper, who realizes that RV dealers need a place to send a brand new technician to get a crash course in RV maintenance in a week to 10 days of intensive hands-on training before returning to the dealership to begin whittling down the extensive waiting list of RV repairs – most of which don’t require college degrees.
The need for RV maintenance is so intense that campgrounds are starting to hire work campers experienced in fixing common RV problems. This serves to help traveling guests, reduce workload on the staff that are often begged for help, and create a profit center for the campground.
Believe it or not, RV owners are very willing to pay to get problems fixed on-site without having to drive the RV to a dealership’s service center, only to return a few days later to pick it up. Cooper creates a national training center where work campers can learn how to fix 80 percent of the problems most RVers experience.
RV owners who like to travel, especially full-timers, quickly realize that if they need their RVs fixed, they probably need to do it themselves. Most RV dealers have a six- to 12-week backlog on service appointments – if they will even work on an RV that wasn’t purchased at the dealership.
Cooper’s training center will provide introductory education to RV owners, as well. Ask any RV show organizer and you’ll learn that the most-often requested seminars have to do with fixing RVs.
Locating the National RV Training Academy at a campground is brilliant. The students can stay at the campground and then, as part of the training, venture out to their RVs to put words to action. Since the campground will be home to a variety of makes and models of recreation vehicles, students will get to see different configurations in real life – not as part of a slide show presentation.
Anyone who teaches anything knows first-hand that if what is being taught in the classroom can be demonstrated in real-life, it takes education to a whole new dimension.
In the past, Cooper has taken his show on the road, much like a traveling carnival that shows up at a town for a day or two and then heads out to the next event. He realizes that demand for training is outpacing his ability to provide it by himself.
That’s why the National RV Training Academy will work to “train the trainers” by teaching experienced technicians to teach others, either at the Texas facility or on their own.
The industry knows we have a need for trained technicians and work is being done to try to recruit and train more technicians. But, with 439,000 new RVs sold last year and another 440,000 expected to be sold this year, demand for service is outstripping the supply of technicians. It’s catching the attention and imaginations of several people. All it needs is a spark to bring it all together.
While visiting Phoenix in February, I spoke with a person whose dream is to train mobile technicians and outfit them with their own work trucks stocked with parts to fix the most common RV problems. He envisions a program that uses technology to automatically restock parts, make appointments, handle invoicing and process credit cards so the mobile technicians can do what they do best – fix things – without having to be burdened by the business side of being an independent technician.
Last year, I spoke with another RVer who envisions the creation of a nationwide network of RV service centers tied to truck stops where people can pull in and get service while traveling. The problem with both of these visions is stalled because of the need to find trained technicians.
Having a national training center providing multi-faceted levels of education will support every one of these initiatives without impacting RV dealers at all. In fact, if the common problems can be taken care of elsewhere, professional technicians can zero in on the more difficult repairs without requiring owners to wait weeks for an appointment.
The National RV Training Academy will go a long way toward getting people trained professionally to tackle simple repairs either for themselves or for their fellow RV owners as work campers. It will also raise the bar for advanced education by making it available from some of the best teachers in the nation.
The academy gives RV dealers the opportunity to send staff for specialized training over a week or two, instead of a month or two. The return on investment should quickly cover the costs associated with paying a tech’s salary and expenses during the training.
Suppliers can provide up-to-date equipment, even if is scratch-and-dent models that really can’t be sold to consumers – and get a tax write off in the process – to help ensure that people can fix their products when they break. Besides, suppliers will have access to a professional, year-round training center they can use to help train technicians.
The National RV Training Academy is an idea that is overdue. The vision developed by Terry Cooper and Steve Anderson will finally work to tackle a problem that has been given plenty of lip service in the past.
They are leading a webinar tomorrow, April 11, at 1 p.m. Central time, to explain this vision in greater detail. I encourage all RV industry professionals and campground owners to register for the free event to learn more about the National RV Training Academy, its objectives and what it can do to improve their businesses.
To register, click here. Even if you can’t attend the live event, register anyway. You’ll get a link to view the webinar at your convenience.
This is the type of outside-the-box thinking that has potential to benefit everyone who owns or services a recreation vehicle. The project deserves the industry’s widespread support.