Tuesday, July 5, 2022

MENU

More RV techs on the way, but don’t expect a quick fix to long repair waits

If you’ve had the misfortune of being forced to take your RV in for service lately, you’re well aware of the impact of the ongoing shortage of RV techs.

RVers requiring even routine maintenance on their rigs are reporting waits of weeks or even months on new and used RV services. It must be mind-numbing to take your brand-new RV in for a little warranty work after your first trip only to find out you’re actually kissing it goodbye for the rest of the camping season.

Granted, not all the service delays can be laid at the feet of the ongoing shortage of qualified RV service technicians. Worldwide supply chain woes are exacerbating delays as dealer service departments join a virtual Easter egg hunt for replacement parts, and RV manufacturers continue to ship out rigs that are missing more non-vital parts than a discounted Thanksgiving turkey.

More RV tech help on the way

Curt Hemmeler, RVTI

Curt Hemmeler, president of the RV Technical Institute (RVTI) based in the RV manufacturing mecca of Northern Indiana, says the Institute has rolled out about 4,000 newly trained RV service technicians in the past two years, despite pandemic challenges.

“We are making great progress, but the shortage isn’t going to go away overnight,” Hemmeler recently told RVtravel.com. “With the rapid growth in the RV industry, I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to say we have enough.”

Hemmeler’s institute was created about three-and-a-half years ago, funded largely by industry groups like the RV Industry Association, Go RVing, and the RV Dealer’s Association along with a few others.

Since then, Hemmeler and his team have tried to whittle away at what was in pre-pandemic 2018 an estimated 20 percent shortfall in the number of needed RV technicians. Hemmeler equates RVTI’s efforts to “eating an elephant a bite at a time,” and says the rapid increases in RV production and sales in the past two years have likely only made the elephant bigger and the shortage worse.

“Before the pandemic, the repair cycle time was about 21 days to get repaired, on average,” he said. Parts shortages, manufacturers shipping rigs with still-missing parts, and lagging reporting woes have made cutting into the 21-day cycle difficult. Many RV owners report waiting months for even simple services.

Hemmeler said he’s confident they were making progress on the repair cycle time prior to the pandemic. “There were good things happening in the industry before COVID hit,” he said. “Maybe as things settle down, we’ll get back to being about 20 percent short again,” he said.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says it recognizes about 17,000 RV service technicians in the U.S. “We aren’t a regulated industry, so we don’t know exactly how many folks are out there claiming to be RV technicians,” Hemmeler said. “Being able to identify all these people is a big challenge. I’d say it’s closer to 21,000.”

How RVTI works

While the RV Technical Institute in Elkhart, Indiana, isn’t the only such organization in the U.S. (there’s also the National RV Training Academy in Athens, Texas), it does offer tech students certification through NOTCI Business Solutions, a leading provider of industry credentials for technical education programs.

Students in the program pay $300 to receive either five weeks of face-to-face instruction at RVTI’s facility in Elkhart, or take the courses online at their own pace through a one-year subscription. At the end of either program, students take written and interactive performance tests to graduate and receive their certification. Techs can receive certification as Level 1, Level 2, Level 3, or Level 4 technicians depending on the path they choose.

Hemmeler said the larger nationwide dealer operations are purchasing “learning partner” licensing memberships to either set up onsite programs with their own trained instructors at their locations or provide whole-shop training remotely to their various outlets.

Previously, many dealerships and repair shops trained technicians in-house in mentorship situations, but that led to massive inconsistencies in skills and many unhappy customers. He said RVTI is trying hard to change that.

“We are the only learning facility for RV technicians that was created with the help of the people who are actually building the final units as well as the parts and pieces,” he said. “That allows us to constantly reevaluate our curriculum and make the updates needed to keep everything current. No one else can do that.”

RV technicians are tradespeople, not mechanics

Hemmeler said what makes the RV industry unique also makes RV technicians a special breed.

“An RV technician has to learn electrical, plumbing, flooring, interior finishing as well as the mechanics of each rig,” he said. “The average person thinks this is all auto tech, but they should be thinking of them as a trades person. About 90 percent of what they work on are the house parts of an RV, not the vehicle part.”

He said those with previous electrical, heating and air conditioning, or plumbing experience do well as RV technicians. Yet the RVTI curriculum is designed to turn someone with limited experience with a screwdriver into a skilled professional.

Hemmeler said his focus right now is on educating high school guidance counselors, potential students, and those looking for a new job that a career as an RV technician can be rewarding.

“A Level 1 or Level 2 trained technician after five weeks of training can expect to make between $45,000 and $65,000 in their first job,” he said. “Many can be making six figures in just a few years, and it doesn’t matter if they are working for a dealer or are independent.”

For now, Hemmeler and his team are hitting trade shows, job fairs and high school counselor conventions to spread the word. “We are finding out that all of the trade careers are getting a lot more attention now because of things like the Great Resignation (the recent trend of long-term dissatisfied workers quitting their jobs),” Hemmeler said. “We are all competing for the same people, and many don’t think about the RVing world until you can talk to them about it.”

He said remote workers who have taken to the road in an RV are taking RVTI classes to start a “side hustle” job as they travel, and he’s also working with home school groups to bring the online curriculum to those potential young students. “We are in a good position to get our fair share,” he said.

From jail to RV tech job

One of the more unusual places the RVTI is finding students is through recruiting non-violent inmates enrolled in prison education programs.

More than 640,000 people are released from state and federal prisons each year. In fact, about 70 million Americans currently have a criminal record, and that can make job searches difficult.

The RV Technical Institute is taking its hands-on training to incarcerated populations including the Westville Correctional Facility in Indiana and the Linda Woodman State Jail in Texas. In the case of the Texas program, all the inmate students are women convicted of non-violent offenses.

“There are actually school districts within the corrections systems around the country,” Himmeler said. “It’s a wonderful program and we are working with area RV dealers to have jobs waiting for them, providing them a real second chance.”

A victim of RVing’s success

The rapid pace of RV manufacturing to meet demand is causing problems for dealerships and RV owners. An estimated 600,000-plus rigs will be shipped from factories this year. Due to supply chain problems, some of those rigs will be delivered missing parts—mostly cosmetic pieces that don’t affect safety or performance. But a new owner will still want those parts installed by technicians eventually.

“I’m comfortable saying that RVs are being built safely, but I’m not saying that they are being built as well as they were before the pandemic,” Hemmeler said. “Doorknobs are going to be missed.”

He said longtime RV owners have become accustomed to new units that need to return to dealerships or manufacturers shortly after purchase for needed repairs by RV techs. Hemmeler said that has led to a “tolerance of acceptability” for less-than-perfect construction. “If a door is ajar or the air conditioner makes noise, there seems to be a tolerance level among buyers,” he said. For now, he said, he expects that tolerance to continue until repair cycles become shorter.

“I think we’ll find that the new generation of RV buyers will be more demanding,” he said. “My portion of the solution equation is to just train more people.”

RELATED

##RVT1048b

Comments

Subscribe
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

10 Comments
Newest
Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Rafael Rivera
2 months ago

Hi. I have 2021 Keystone Springdale 28 BHS with serious structural problems of air leaking and water leak waiting more than 6 months to be repair in warranty. The warranty right now been expire and have this time in the dealer waiting for pieces to repair. I want to know what to do with this warranty ? not used. The Rvs been there without use in 6 months no maintenance, no roof washing etc. What happen is another concern. Dealer always have and excuse requiring hours for job, waiting pieces and approbation of manufacturer. Any help or advice is welcome.

Maurizio Taglianini
2 months ago

VW and Daimler (Mercedes-Benz) both offer some quality chassis/powertrains and even their own RV (California and Marco Polo) diesel pushers no EV yet.

Bob M
2 months ago

I have no tolerance of acceptability” for less-than-perfect construction. If RV manufactures can’t get it right with a quality product and use quality materials and equipment they should close down. I’d like to buy an Outdoors travel trailer, but reading on the Outdoors forum. Their quality has went to hell. Than they have divorced them self with dealing with customers directly. Even my Jayco Travel trailer had too many issues. So why would I want to by another travel trailer.

BILLY Bob Thronton
2 months ago
Reply to  Bob M

Then i guess you won’t be RVing anymore.

Here’s a suggestion, buy a higher end RV, trailer, with a one piece roof, aluminum framework construction. Since you’ve already resided to sit on the sidelines, hold tight till the pending economic collapse, just around the corner, and be ready to “take one off somebodies hands”!

Thomas Moeller
2 months ago

It is because of that acceptance of inferior quality the RV mfg pushes out unreliable and unfinished units, they have no fear of repercussions! My auto warranty provides a loaner if the vehicle can’t be repaired in one day! Impractical for the RV industry, however, loss of use penalties in the form of a monetary fine, of say, $50 a day fine for shoddy workmanship, this would improve quality control overnight! We bought a trailer from a major manufacturer, with obvious defects! Unfortunately I believed the dealer when he said they’d take care of these defects by sending their mobile tech out to me! Bought in October, 1st time they came out was January, 2weeks later we found out that repairs were still waiting for approval, I sent email to the dealer and mfg, dealer called and berated me for sending it, told me we didn’t know how their system worked, then I got an email from the mfg, they got on it and we had the repairs approved in 1 day, BECAUSE I got involved ! Will track parts too!

Jesse Crouse
2 months ago

I am 73 and selling me CRAP is not an option. I am self employed in the Plumbing & Heating profession and I don’t sell CRAP or do CRAP installs-PERIOD. I expect to get what I give. No tolerance here.

Bruce Fuerbringer
2 months ago

Wow. “Tolerance do Acceptability.” I am willing to pay for a quality-challenged RV that can cost more than some luxury vehicles and more than I make in a year, and am OK with the good possibility that it will need repairs within months (or most certainly a few short years) after purchasing it, and am OK with waiting weeks or months for repairs. I’m not sure who this speaks lesser of – the manufacturers or the consumers. If contractors, plumbers or electricians had this track record they wouldn’t be in business very long. How is it RV manufacturers get away with this and even prosper under these conditions? Easy – we consumers allow them to. We keep believing their sales hype and continue to hand our money over to them. Unfortunately, those of us that enjoy the RV/camping experience really don’t have an alternative. The RV industry, from manufacturers to dealers are making money no matter how poor their quality or service (or both) is, so where is the incentive to improve the industry?

wanderer
2 months ago

Well said. We need a new trade policy. Instead of encouraging the import from foreign countries of essentials like surgical gloves, microchips, etc., and nonsense like plastic forks, cookies, etc, we stop that, and allow import of 100,000 RVs a year from manufacturers in Japan and Korea. Quality in American made units would improve within 1 year.

Clayobx
2 months ago
Reply to  wanderer

True! Example auto industry in America provided easy entrance to foreign manufacturers ie: Toyota, Kia, etc. This worked and forced GM, Ford and Chrysler to compete on a equal product. Easy peasy except money grifting Into pockets of politicians and watch dog Entities such as RIVA have successfully prevented competitors. Sad for us that live the lifestyle and are left with little to no recourse. Buyer beware.

BILLY Bob Thronton
2 months ago
Reply to  wanderer

No need for that. Just tell them to read the history of manufacturing after WWII. The author is Demming.

Sign up for our newsletter

Every Saturday and Sunday morning. Serving RVers for more than 20 years.