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Opinion

Appetite For Training Obvious In Orlando

One thing was more than clear at the recent STX in Orlando, FL – this industry is hungry for technical education.

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Over the past two years, this industry has done an amazing job of cooking and serving up some very healthy training options, albeit typically on a virtual basis.

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Some of the most complex topics imaginable were presented with as much flavor and spice that a computer-generated classroom could offer. 

Let’s be honest though – even though the menus were well designed, the recipes were spot on, the chefs were talented and the servings were plentiful and nutritious, there’s just something about virtual training that left us wanting more.

And more was offered recently, in the form of a training smorgasbord at STX 2022 in Orlando. Hosted by Advance and WorldPac, STX is touted as the largest automotive aftermarket training event in North America. Nearly 2,500 technicians, shop and business owners, service writers and manufacturers, as well as 200 students from local high schools, colleges and trade schools, gathered to access training courses.

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There’s no doubt – attendees were hungry for knowledge.

Now, understand, I would NEVER criticize the value of training in any form, virtual or in-person. Still …

“I can tell you one thing,” explained Bob Cushing, executive vice president, Professional, Advance Auto Parts. “Nothing replaces being in person. I don’t care what anyone says – walk into one of those classes, listen to the feedback from the students, hear the questions they’re asking and what one technician is talking about to another – there’s incredible dynamics of that happening live. There’s no substitute for that.”

“Nothing replaces being in person. I don’t care what anyone says. Walk into one of those classes –  there’s incredible dynamics of that happening live. There’s no substitute for that.” – Bob Cushing, EVP, Professional, Advance Auto Parts

The buffet table was packed with a vast array of choices, with more than 250 classes ranging from hybrid and EV technologies, modern transmission opportunities, understanding ADAS on a variety of platforms, as well as management topics including understanding your numbers and profits, sessions on recruiting and retaining employees, and systems for high performing shops.

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According to Rob Morrell, senior director of customer training with WorldPac and Advance, this year’s STX saw unprecedented participation at all levels, and the excitement and passion was obvious. 

“We brought all of our techs,” said Kim Auernheimer, who with her husband Rob, owns Cool Springs Automotive in Brentwood, TN. “Each of them selected the training sessions they felt would benefit our business the most.”

Several shop owners who I spoke with had similar stories, feeling the training opportunities being offered warranted actually closing their shops for nearly a week, and investing in the future. 

“At the first STX conference, held in 2009, there were 52 classes attended by 450 students,” Morrell said. “This year, we offered 250 classes taught by 160 instructors. For years, our most popular classroom sessions dealt with BMW vehicles. This year, BMW was superseded by interest in hybrid and Tesla technologies.”

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In fact, interest in electric vehicles was so strong that, before being allowed to register for one class, students had to take 10 hours of pre-work. “We had more than 240 customers trying to get into a class that was only able to accommodate 25 students,” Cushing said.

Let’s be clear, a wide assortment of virtual training continues to be available – and, in all truthfulness, effective. 

As good as this training was – and by all accounts it was spectacular – the need continues. As more students return to in-person events, the appetite for education will continue to increase.

Stay hungry, my friends.

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