Saab fights technician shortage with training

For Saab Cars USA Inc., the national shortage of technicians has been particularly rough. With a network of only 205 dealerships, there never seems to be enough technical expertise to go around.

But Saab is not letting this dilemma get the best of its dealers. The company has established Saab University, a training program designed to bring more technicians into the fold.

The 18-month-old program has graduated just over 100 technicians, and the curriculum was expanded to include advanced courses designed to bring technicians to master level.

One of the goals of Saab University is to motivate dealers to look beyond competing Saab dealerships for experienced technicians, drawing candidates from dealerships that sell other franchises and from independent garages.

"Finding Saab technicians is a huge challenge," said Randy Risley, Saab's national training manager. "Dealers have started recruiting technicians from other Saab dealers, which doesn't help our network out. The solution that would be best for us is to convert a good technician from another line to a Saab technician in a short time."

Risley said the course is focused and hands-on.

"We teach them how to use the proper resources, old books for old cars and service bulletins, as well as the electronic parts and service information system," he said. "The students are working on Saabs. Sometimes the car is bugged, and sometimes they are being taught to remove and replace parts."

The lower-level course takes three weeks; the master technician training program is four weeks. The students take a few weeks off between each week of training to apply what they have learned at their dealerships.

Dealers can send as many technicians as they want through the training, which is funded through the undisclosed annual training subscription paid by all Saab dealers.

The training is offered in three Saab training centers in Norcross, Ga.; Anaheim, Calif.; and Wallingford, Conn., and will be expanded to training centers in Chicago and Beltsville, Md.

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