Aim Drives Its Own Apprenticeship Training

GIRARD – 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.

Aim’s director of operations and training, Chris Disantis, explains the technician apprenticeship program spans three years, teaching the intricacies of tires, brakes, transmissions, transport refrigeration and even helps participants obtain their commercial driver’s license. The program is free.

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 new employees that Aim plans to hire this year.

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

Aim is expanding its used truck department by refurbishing rental and lease vehicles at three sites, including Girard. Disantis says it is a “pivotal part of our business.”

Each site has technicians to service those vehicles. Disantis says there is a lot of pride involved in making sure the refurbished trucks are maintained properly 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.

Those who are accepted into the program have to be trainable and work well with others, says Dean Kennedy, Aim corporate training manager.

A former diesel mechanic in the Army, Leggett says he’s talked to a friend in the Marine Corps  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.”

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 license 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.

No new technicians were added in 2020, but Disantis says 12 will be entering the apprenticeship program in August. The 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 manufacturers’ 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.”

Aim promotes employees from within its corporate chain, and Disantis says some apprentices become full-time workers.

Pictured: Chris Disantis, director of operations and training, calls diesel technicians the company’s “lifeblood.”