The Midwest Auto Care Alliance’s VISION Hi-Tech Training and Expo took place March 2-5 in Overland Park, Kansas, boasting record attendance in total and with new attendees.
MWACA Executive Director Sheri Hamilton has run the show for 25 years, and she said that when she took over the event, around 350 attendees came for training. Today, about ten times as many technicians, owners and industry stakeholders come to attend training sessions and meet with vendors.
On the third day of the event, Ratchet+Wrench sat down with Hamilton to talk about the show’s growth, impact and new programming.
Ratchet+Wrench: What gives VISION its strength and impact?
Hamilton: With the Midwest Auto Care Alliance, we’ve been seen for many, many years as the leader with benefits and training and services that we provide to our members. VISION, this is 31 years, and this is my 25th year managing the event.
For first-time attendees, I think we are at like 970 first-time training attendees. They are from 47 states and seven countries. We’ll end up around 3,500 [total attendance], and that will be a record.
What is the recruitment process like for new attendees and to get more people interested?
We do some advertising, but really it’s word of mouth. The industry is so passionate, and I think that when they come here, it’s different from other events. They feel like they’re family. They see people they know, and our team and staff know a lot of them from year after year.
It’s small and manageable, and it really allows the opportunity to connect, and it does make the event much different and something to talk about.
How VISION got its start was that quality training that wasn’t a sales pitch wasn't easily found 30 years ago. And so that was very much what we wanted. These shop owners are making an investment, not only in closing their shop but paying for their registrations, bringing their teams, paying for hotels and food. They’re making a huge investment, and we take that seriously. And by doing so, we make sure we’re bringing quality training that gets them what they need to go back and make a difference in their business.
Tell me about the new programming for entry-level technicians.
This is the first year we’ve done the General Service Technician Academy. It’s a two-day event, and we start off with the very foundation of safety. Instructors provide OSHA training. In our industry, you’re required to go through OSHA training annually, and a lot of shops don’t have that program, so we felt the need to set the standard that this is what you need when you come in, so they’ll have that certificate done for the year.
They also come in and get their Automotive Lift Institute training program, testing and certification. They learn what good lifts are, what are safe lifts and what standards and safety should be followed in the shop.
Then we follow with the Tire Industry Association and we provide tire safety training and certification. We did alignment training, basic A/C, basic electrical. And then they’ll get their MACS 609 for that A/C training.
And we spend time with them to do digital vehicle inspections. We go through different methods to inspect a vehicle, what to look out for and that really empowers them with another angle to go back to the shop and help.
[Previously] Those entry-level technicians didn’t have training that they could attend here at VISION, because a lot of it is advanced. These shops are bringing their teams, but they’re leaving their younger techs at home. We want them to be able to experience this event, the team atmosphere with their shop, and see lifelong learning. So that program hopefully sets the foundation, and we hope to see them return for years to come.
Training and vehicle technology is in such a state of change. What’s the key to keeping that training fresh and up-to-date?
That is a continual search that we do year-round, working with our partners and trying to find the latest training that is out there. It’s a challenge to find good training that’s validated and can be presented on a large scale.
It’s like a great big puzzle where we try to fit it all in and try to make sure we’re always pushing the edge of technology and covering the foundation for others in the industry as well.