MOT Workshop 39 – Tester Training

Tester Training is, according to VOSA, the responsibility of the AE – VOSA just ‘calibrate skills’. It is taken far more seriously in the rest of Europe, where, in Belgium for example, two-week courses are given.
The rules for UK NT qualification are about to change again, but will it be for the better? In this first part of two articles on the subject MOT Consultant John Gillson looks at where we are at the moment…

Training Risk and responsibility

The decision not to train is not a viable option. Without regular and effective training, together with thorough monitoring, Authorised Examiners place their significant investment and livelihood at risk with every MOT Test carried out. Authorised Examiners have a dual responsibility. The first of which is the responsibility to ensure vehicle safety through effective MOT Testing. The second is the responsibility to protect their staff and business.

Similarly The Vehicle & Operator Services Agency has a dual responsibility to ensure road safety and to protect their “agents”. Unfortunately a working lifetime of involvement with MOT Testing has clearly shown that neither party fully meets their commitment or responsibility to MOT training. I have seen official Nominated Tester (NT) training progress from an “off you go” approach of the 1960s, through the one day course presented by any available local Vehicle Examiner, to the three day course of 2011.

Little practical training

training(Left) MOT Training is set to change for the future with emphasis on theoretical as well as practical skills.
(Picture courtesy of REMIT)

Unfortunately, at no time during this period has the official training included the facility for each candidate to complete at least one “MOT Test ” under the close supervision of the instructor and other course members. I think this shortfall is the “Achilles heel” of MOT Testing, since in the words of the old saying “practice makes perfect”.

Some thirty years ago I had the opportunity to make a short fact finding visit to two of the facilities in Belgium providing annual vehicle Testing. One of the aspects which impressed me (and there were many which impressed me) was the two-week course for vehicle Testers. To put this into perspective in the same period the Vehicle Inspectorate (now VOSA) were providing a one day training course, for Testers, at a local Heavy Goods Vehicle Testing Station. The course presentation was extremely variable being dependent on the ability and interpretation of the local Vehicle Examiner “chosen or press ganged” into the role of instructor for the day. Practical training was completed during the lunch period using one of the Test lane inspection pits, thus avoiding impact or conflict with Goods Vehicle Testing,
The restricted size of a Goods Vehicle Test lane inspection pit, meant that six students and the instructor was like a “Monty Python” sardine packing sketch rather than the demonstration of an MOT Test designed to support a lifetime of MOT Testing. Fortunately, VOSA now have purpose built training facilities with fully equipped Test lanes.

Two extra days training

After considerable lobbying, approximately five or six years ago the NT training course was increased from two days to three. I hoped the additional day would mean that NT trainees would do at least one supervised demonstration MOT during training. Unfortunately MOT Computerisation meant the third day was hi-jacked for training on the MOT Computer rather than a practical MOT Test exercise. Therefore the responsibility to ensure every NT conducts thorough and effective MOT inspection procedures remains the responsibility of the Authorised Examiner.

I see the role of a NTs as similar to that of professional golfers who carry out the same precise and repetitive procedure before every stroke. For the professional golfer, however, failure to follow such a procedure only results in lost earnings. MOT Testers, on the other hand, must apply a precise and effective inspection procedure throughout every MOT Test. Unfortunately, for NTs the penalty for the failure to do that is not restricted to loss of earnings, but could, eventually result in unemployment.

The shortage of effective and reliable NTs is the legacy of the 1980s/90s when training and apprenticeships became “dirty words” on the political altar of cost cutting and short term gain. The benefits of training investment is demonstrated by the German Economy, widely reported as being on the way to recovery, whilst our politicians were more concerned with creative expense claims and blaming each other for the Global recession caused by avaricious bankers.

Training back in fashion

“Whoopee do” the penny appears to have dropped. Our political elite now actively encourage a return to apprenticeships. Unfortunately, I fear that the new apprenticeships are likely to be a quick fix solution and will subsequently be placed, by AEs, in the same doubtful value category as the NVQ! Unfortunately, there is no short cut to sound mechanical/ practical knowledge of the motor car required to become an effective and reliable nominated Tester.
The reliability of the modern motor car and the increased use of electronic systems has, however, relegated mechanical knowledge to the “second division of motor vehicle repair”. Having visited many garage premises over the past fifty years, I am of the opinion that the status/standing of the mechanical staff is clearly demonstrated, on many premises, by the significant difference between “front of house” reception areas and the less than salubrious facilities often provided for the mechanics and technicians.

Site Assessments were introduced to address the image problems as well as attempt to standardise the application of procedures and standards. However, I am of the opinion that unless Authorised Examiners fully recognise the fact that all prospective nominated Testers must have a comprehensive technical knowledge/background the continuation of their business will be at significant risk.

Becoming an MOT Tester

Historically there have been three routes to becoming an MOT Tester, the first of these being what might be called “grandfather rights”, at the inception of the MOT Testing Scheme. After fifty years of MOT Testing many of those who achieved nominated Tester status by this route have hung up their corrosion assessment tool for the last time.
I recall from my early days as a Vehicle Examiner, in the mid 1960s, that some of the “higher echelon visionaries” of the Department of Transport foresaw the day when all motor mechanics would have to hold certification of their ability/knowledge before being allowed to carry out motor vehicle repairs, a situation which exists in the aircraft industry today.

Unfortunately, this never materialised and so the second qualification route to “nominated Tester” status was introduced. The exact qualification requirements are set out in the MOT Testing Guide and on the VT78 Application Form. These are:

  • NVQ/SVQ – Level 3, Vehicle Maintenance & Repair ‘Maintaining Automotive Vehicles’
  • City & Guilds – Minimum Level 2, Motor Vehicle Craft Studies Repair & Servicing of Road Vehicles
  • National Craft Certificate Motor, Vehicle Mechanics

Unfortunately, due to a number of factors, the qualifications requiring sustained and regular attendance on a three year ‘day release’ course and/or evening classes have become a route on which the young mechanics are reluctant to embark. The more relaxed and less onerous NVQ/SVQ has become the most popular choice for most fledgling mechanics.

Unfortunately a significant number who choose this route lack the staying power to progress beyond Level 2. For those who do continue to Level 3, the “tick box” and signature approach to the required duties and tasks, frequently achieve a qualification which their technical knowledge and ability cannot support.

The third historical route to nominated Tester approval/status is the now infamous Assessment Examination. Introduced by VI/VOSA during the 1980s it is a sixty-question, 90-minute duration, multi-choice examination – the NTTA.
This route to nominated Tester status appears to have lost favour with the current VOSA hierarchy on the basis that their staffing resources are now extremely restricted.

In understand that although the “Consultation Document” will not be issued until April/May 2011 it has already been decided that the NTT Assessment Examination will cease to be a route to Nominated Tester qualification after September/October 2011. Therefore, I would recommend an early application for all those who wish to follow this route to Nominated Tester qualification.

I have the benefit of a five-year apprenticeship, City & Guilds Full Technological Certificate Automobile Engineering Practice, an HNC in Mechanical & Production Engineering, together with some fifty years plus of motor engineering experience. Nevertheless I’m sure that, in common with the vast majority of applicants, I would have found the Assessment Examination difficult, had I been forced to sit it, without the benefit of pre-study and/or coaching in regard to the content and nature of the examination. When training students for the NTTA, I recommend clients do some pre-course reading to ensure familiarity with the general motor vehicle engineering design terms and phrases used.

The Fundamentals of Motor Vehicle Technology, 5th Edition by VAW Hillier and Peter Coombes is an excellent book for this purpose. The 5th Edition Book 1 can be obtained direct from the publishers Nelson Thornes Ltd by telephoning their Customer Services on 01242 26710.

The book is an excellent acquisition for anyone intent on a motor trade career. However, reading for the Assessment Examination needs to be fairly selective with Sections 1, 4, 5, 6 and 7, being a priority. Section 2 is particularly detailed and should only be read to provide a background to emission control aspects.

For those candidates who wish to obtain assistance with their preparation I have provided a successful coaching service in a one-to-one, independent refresher training format for almost eighteen years and intend to provide such a service until the Assessment Examination is withdrawn. (Telephone 01934 510804)

To be continued:

Training after qualification – the three day course – and VOSA’s future plans
This article first appeared in MOT Testing magazine in May 2011, and whilst everything that John Gillson said then largely still applies, there have been some more recent developments.

Firstly, VOSA’s direct, ‘NTTA test’ route enabling motor mechanics without sufficient qualifications to become enrolled in the VOSA MOT Tester training programme has been retained for the time being, and did not end during 2011 as we had all been told at the time. However, as John says, this is labour intensive for VOSA who, in due course, expect Institute of the Motor Industry’s (IMI’s) ATA level 3 qualification to be the ‘norm’ for pre-qualified Tester trainees.

Another new development, however, could change things again. The IMI are working with VOSA to develop an ‘MOT Specific’ qualification – which, we understand is almost complete… which will be reported in due course in MOT Testing magazine.

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