By Steve Bauer
PHOENIX — A partnership between Kawasaki Motors Corp. and a service training institute that is sending hundreds of techs to dealerships annually has reached a milestone.
The Motorcycle Mechanic Institute’s (MMI) K-Tech Specialist program, now in its 10th year, is a 12-week elective program where MMI students get hands-on training specifically on Kawasaki products, including motorcycles, ATVs, UTVs and PWC. Kawasaki assists the school with product for the students to work on, along with “factory” instructor training, access to the company’s k-dealer intranet, and K-Tech Specialist instructors have direct access to the manufacturer’s top technical people. In 2006, MMI placed more than 300 graduates in Kawasaki dealerships across the country.
Although Kawasaki and MMI’s relationship spans back to 1989, when the company officially endorsed the school, it wasn’t until 1997 that the two companies came together to create a unique curriculum that would mirror the training Kawasaki provides to its dealers. Since then, the program has outgrown its original facilities, and continues to attract more students each year.
“We have a lot more students now. That first class was one shift and was six or eight students, and now we run six classes in three shifts, and there can be as many as 18 students in a class,” said Tom Dahl, a K-Tech Specialist instructor and the original chief instructor of the program. “Also it changed from a six-week program to a 12-week program, and product is a constant thing that’s changing. We have two labs instead of one, and at night when we put all the vehicles in storage they’re jam packed so you can’t hardly walk through the room. It’s grown a ton.”
Kawasaki also invites the K-Tech Specialist chief instructors to its headquarters in California each year for 3-4 days of hands-on training on the company’s new products.
“Kawasaki has its own instructors who teach dealer classes, and once a year when they get a feel for what the new product is going to be and what the classes are going to need to be, they internally run some training, and we’re always invited to that,” said Gary Stiles, chief instructor of K-Tech Specialist.
Kawasaki also is committed to donating product. MMI estimates that Kawasaki has provided the school with $591,000 worth of motorcycles, ATVs, UTVs and PWCs in the past 18 months. Stiles says updated product Kawasaki delivers gives the K-Tech Specialist students even more of an advantage in terms of learning about the company’s products hands on.
“The amount of product we get from them is amazing,” he said. “All the bikes and product the students are working on is current. I don’t think there’s anything in the classroom that’s more than 4-5 years old. The help we get from them makes our jobs so much easier and pertinent that I wouldn’t even want to think what it would be like without their support, because it just wouldn’t be the same program it is now.”
Dahl agrees, and says the support goes beyond just product donations.
“If there’s anything we need, especially information-wise, it’s just a matter of a phone call,” he said. “We couldn’t do this without them. They are literally doing everything they can on their end to ensure that this is a successful program.”
Kawasaki also has a hand in helping MMI create an up-to-date curriculum that ensures students are receiving training that will be relevant once they join a dealership.
“Kawasaki doesn’t dictate the curriculum to us, but they give us topics to follow. And then generally our chief instructors will write the curriculum,” said Bill Schuette, MMI’s national account director for motorcycle and marine OEMs. “We’ll run it by them to make sure everything is covered, then our curriculum group will write the final curriculum and we send it back to Kawasaki once more for review.”
Hands-on training, continued growth
One of the most unique aspects of the K-Tech Specialist program is the similarities the curriculum has with the classes Kawasaki holds for its dealers. The focus is not only on learning Kawasaki’s product, but ensuring the training is mostly hands-on experience.
“I’ve actually taught dealer classes for Kawasaki, and the curriculum is almost identical to what the students are getting,” Dahl said. “Of the 12 weeks there’s typically only 12 days that they actually spend in a classroom situation, and the rest of that time they’re in the lab working on various projects.”
As for the program’s future, Schuette says he sees continued demand from Kawasaki dealers.
“The fact that (Kawasaki) endorses us lends even more credibility to us, plus most of the dealers have experience with us from our exposure at Kawasaki’s dealer show,” he said. “They know what they’re going to get from us, I think they like what they’re getting and they keep coming back.”
Schuette says Kawasaki’s support is what drives the program, but the relationship between the two has stayed strong because of the end result: entry-level technicians that have the unique advantage of training that comes directly from the company.
“Kawasaki really supports us, but I really believe that they get a lot of value from this school in having nearly 600 students head into the field with this unique knowledge of their product,” he said. “That’s where their commitment to the program really pays off, in the dealership.”