Aim Transportation’s Apprenticeships Give Workers Direction

GIRARD, Ohio – Even though there are plenty of programmers in his family, Ryan Leggett always had trouble envisioning himself spending the workday at a keyboard.

“I’m just more of a hands-on type of person,” Leggett says. “I like getting dirty, taking things apart, seeing how they work and putting them back together.”

As a diesel technician for Aim Transportation Solutions and part of the company’s technician apprenticeship program, the 29-year-old has plenty of chances to get his hands dirty. At Aim’s garage in Girard, Leggett and corporate trainer Kory Stoudt lift the cab on a white Aim refrigeration truck and push it forward to examine it for fluid leaks, worn-out belts, rusted fluid lines and any other mechanical issues.

It’s up to Stoudt, who went through the apprenticeship program himself, to teach people like Leggett fundamentals such as braking requirements and what size wire to use for headlights. A guide of best practices is published by the American Trucking Association in its Technology & Maintenance Council manual.

Aim’s director of operations and training Chris Disantis explains the technicians apprenticeship program spans three years, teaching the intricacies about tires, brakes, transmissions, transport refrigeration and even helping those people obtain their commercial drivers license. The company’s program is free to those participating.

As the “lifeblood” of Aim, as Disantis describes them, technicians play a crucial role in keeping customers happy and the company’s fleet of 10,000 vehicles running. 

“They’re probably the most important person that shows up to work every day,” he says, adding that technicians are among the workers Aim plans to hire this year. 

Disantis says 2020 was Aim’s best year for driver productivity, having a “great class of drivers.” 

Last year was Aim’s best for driver productivity, a result of having “a great class of drivers,” he says, and the work technicians do to keep them moving.

Aim is expanding its used truck department by refurbishing rental and lease vehicles at three sites, including Girard. Disantis said it is a “pivotal part of our business.” He states the profits off of those sales are vital to Aim’s yearly budget.

There is a fleet of technicians at those branches to service those vehicles. He says there is a lot of pride involved in making sure the refurbished trucks are maintained properly and cleaned to give Aim a good reputation.

“We’re selling our name,” Disantis said, adding that demand is growing again for technicians, which Aim develops through its apprenticeship program.

Aim corporate training manager Dean Kennedy states someone who comes into the program has to be trainable and work well with others. 

Before Stoudt started his apprenticeship at Aim, he supplied fuel to the vehicles, washed trucks and delivered parts from dealerships. “Basic grunt work,” he calls it. After joining the company’s apprenticeship program in the late 2000s to learn how to work on trucks instead of cleaning them, he soon realized he wanted to advance up Aim’s corporate ladder. He’s been a corporate trainer and field technician for the past five years.

Stoudt eventually received his CDL licence with an advanced safety certificate, tire industry association certification, section 609 technician training and certification to repair or service motor vehicle air conditioning units and other certifications. 

There were no new technicians in 2020, but Disantis says there will be 12 coming into the program in August. The apprenticeship program was moved to a virtual platform in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He says Aim has had 11 apprenticeship cohorts since the program started in 2006.

Virtual classes take a toll on the students and teachers. Stoudt admits it was tough staying connected with his pupils. He was assigning courses, meeting weekly or twice a month, following the manufacturer’s websites to go over all aspects of the truck.

“It makes it really difficult because guys weren’t able to get their hands on [a vehicle],” Stoudt said. “They couldn’t be face-to-face and get that aspect of it.”

These apprentices can become full-time workers with Aim. Disantis said at Girard there are five graduated apprentices and two with the program.

Disantis adds with no new apprentices coming to Aim in 2020, that loss will impact the company’s productivity in a couple of years. Aim promotes employees from within its corporate chain.

A former diesel mechanic in the Army, Leggett says he’s talked to a friend in the Marine Corps who has a similar job about coming to Aim. Leggett encourages anyone interested in being a technician to learn through high school, college or military.

“Or, you do what I did,” he said. “Find an apprenticeship and go apply.”

Pictured: Corporate trainer Kory Stoudt gives directions to apprentice Ryan Liggett while the pair works on a truck at Aim Transportation Solutions’ garage in Girard.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.