Listen to this story
By Greg Gerber
Editor, RV Daily Report
Terry Cooper is a man of action. There are others in the RV industry who rise to that level, but it’s rare. Cooper sees a need, and seeks to fill it. While others are content to talk and talk and talk about problems, Cooper finds a way to resolve them.
Case in point, the National RV Training Academy in Athens, Texas. Cooper cut the ribbon to the new training facility today.
Ever since I landed in the RV industry in January 2000, one of the most critical issues impacting the industry has been finding, training and retaining RV technicians. Dealers are screaming for techs, as are RV manufacturers, component suppliers and even campgrounds. The problem is, there aren’t enough of technicians.
Yet, it seems nothing is ever done to address the problem.
Oh, there have been half-hearted attempts made just so some leaders can feel good about “doing something,” but it was never enough to truly make a difference.
I was with Cooper at a campground in Shipshewana, Ind., in 2016 when he outlined a vision he said he received. A man of faith, he is accustomed to hearing specific instructions from God, and then doing his part to carry them out.
Years ago, he oversaw the RV Industry Association-endorsed technician training program at Texas State Technical College in Waco, Texas.
When that door closed during the recession, he took his training on the road with the Mobile RV Academy. He and his wife, Evada, traveled the country training technicians on all aspects of RV repair.
The problem with being on the road all day every day is that opportunities for training are limited by time and location. It’s also hard to haul a bunch of refrigerators, generators and air conditioners from city to city to show students how to diagnose and fix problems.
Cooper realized the need for a fixed, permanent location to train students all year long, not just during a few dozen week-long sessions scattered around the nation. He understood that training needed to be available when the students were ready, not when someone else decided a specific time was the only opportunity for training that year.
When Cooper shared his vision with me he was lacking everything but enthusiasm. He had no plan, no location, no equipment and, most importantly, no money. He only had an idea. Yet, he stepped out in obedience of the instructions he was given.
Here we are, almost three years to the day he shared that vision with me, celebrating the opening of a new state-of-the-art training center that will educate dealership technicians, mobile technicians, factory technicians and campground technicians. He’ll also train RV inspectors and RV owners who realize its faster to go through formal training to learn to fix something themselves than it is to make an appointment and wait months to get an RV serviced.
Thanks to a $750,000 grant, the center will also be used to train missionaries on solar power, plumbing, electricity and absorption refrigeration so they can bring critical skills and services to the most remote regions of the world.
As Cooper embraced every step of the project, doors opened in front of him bringing needed supplies, equipment, people, skills and cash to make the vision a reality.
In fact, the National RV Training Academy has already graduated its first classes of technicians.
What Cooper did was contrary to the myriad of industry approaches that are often introduced with tremendous fanfare, but die a quiet death.
Terry Cooper did not announce plans, then form a committee, then announce revised plans, then hire staff, then appoint a board of directors, then announce more revisions to the plans, then look at curriculum, then revised the plan again, then revise the curriculum, etc., etc., etc.
Cooper did not have $10 million in cash and infinite resources in people and material.
Cooper took action and is now training technicians to address a decades-old problem that every one knows exists and that hundreds of high-level individuals have talked about ad nauseam.
Cooper did his part. Now it’s time for the industry to step up as well.
Dealers who have been complaining about the need for technicians, now have year-round training available at a location with its own housing that is close to an airport.
Suppliers who have decried the lack of venues to help train technicians with up-to-date equipment, now have a location to conduct education — or to simply supply equipment so others can provide the training.
Will the RV industry — which will build another 400,000 motorhomes and towables this year — step up to train 4,000 new technicians? Or will it continue to sit back and whine about the problem?
Time will tell.