Members of the inaugural tech training class include: from left, Kevin Hoppe, Thad Lartz, Nathan Stodden, dealer trainer Terry Straw, Justin Handley, Robert Wiskerchen and  Austin Harrmann

Members of the inaugural tech training class include: from left, Kevin Hoppe, Thad Lartz, Nathan Stodden, dealer trainer Terry Straw, Justin Handley, Robert Wiskerchen and Austin Harrmann

Truck Country is taking an organic approach to developing quality, certified service technicians.

By taking advantage of the organization’s newly opened Technician Training Center in Cuba City, Wis., Truck Country launched its inaugural certified Diesel Tech Training program in early September.

The 10-month program will see attendees splitting time between the center and their home dealerships. For the first four weeks of the program, students were slated to attend classes in Cuba City, before returning to their individual dealerships for four additional weeks to put to practice what they learned. Afterward, plans call for the program to run in two-week increments between the training center and dealerships.

Dealer trainer Terry Straw is leading the first class, which features six students from across the company’s dealerships. Four of the students are new to the company, while the other two have been with the company for a matter of months prior to joining the program.

“Right now, it is a lot of classroom time,” Straw said during the program’s first week.

Straw, however, anticipates the bulk of the students’ time will be spent in the shop, learning as they work on trucks.

“Here, we are going to focus on (learning by the philosophy of) ‘Here’s how you do it, so let’s go out and do it,” Straw said. “Most of the guys in the field are going to learn hands-on.”

Even when the students are away from their home dealerships, they will focus on customer service and getting the job done right, Straw added.

“If it takes us until 5 or 5:30 (p.m.) to complete a job, it takes us until 5 or 5:30 to do it,” said Straw, noting the class typically runs until 4 p.m. daily.

Straw hopes to use trucks from the company’s Used Trucks department to work on as part of the class. He said students would be able to assist the Used Trucks department by performing tasks on trucks that arrive on trade.

Although Truck Country program attendees will not receive credit like they would by going through a college or technical school program, the goal is for attendees to be competent, Freightliner certified technicians by the completion of the program.

The tech training class gathers in the shop to go over a truck students would start working on.

The tech training class gathers in the shop to go over a truck students would start working on.

“We took the idea of taking kids who couldn’t afford college or didn’t want to invest $30,000 to go to college,” Straw explained. “This gets them a paycheck, and gets them educated to start off in a field. A lot of these guys wouldn’t have an opportunity to start at a dealership without some kind of program like this.”

Robert Wiskerchen, of Truck Country’s Wausau dealership, fits the mold of student the program was looking to attract.

Wiskerchen explored the option of attending a trade school, but he quickly learned that matching a class schedule with working would be difficult. Instead, he decided to pursue participating in an apprenticeship program.

“I luckily called Truck Country and they told me about the program,” Wiskerchen said.

Thad Lartz, of the Davenport dealership, previously took college courses prior to joining the Truck Country team over a year ago.  He endorsed the company’s training program.

“It is great hands-on (experience), from start to finish,” said Lartz, who also noted the Truck Country program allows students to train on trucks that they likely would see in the shop.

As the program progresses, Straw expects the curriculum will change over time.

“This is a pilot class,” he said. “We’ll probably have some drastic changes as we develop the course section for next year.”

“We are the first class going through this,” Lartz added. “We understand we are guinea pigs.”

Dealer trainer Terry Straw, left, answers a  question from tech training student Robert Wiskerchen, of the Truck Country - Wausau locaton.

Dealer trainer Terry Straw, left, answers a question from tech training student Robert Wiskerchen, of the Truck Country – Wausau locaton.