January 14, 2011
Bob Monroig smiles every day on his way to work at Lake Washington Technical College (LWTC), high atop a hill overlooking the affluent Seattle suburb of Kirkland, WA. He's created his own job within a job, where he's the Harley- Davidson University program coordinator and tenured faculty in the Motorcycle, Marine, & Power Equipment Service Technology program.
A Motorcycle Tech legend
Monroig is a legend in the Puget Sound and Washington State motorcycle industries, cranking out generation after generation of highly trained motorcycle service specialists, while simultaneously graduating classes of well-trained Harley-Davidson dealership technicians from across the country. Monroig gets to use Harley-Davidson's state-of-the-art motorcycles in his LWTC motorcycle program, while his students get the benefit of the up-to-date expertise he acquires from his Harley-Davidson training. He's even introduced a Harley-Davidson option to the college's Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree, which positions his LWTC students to enter Harley's dealerships in a wide variety of capacities.
In addition to Monroig's excellent reputation in the West, he's highly respected in the field around the United States, especially with people involved in SkillsUSA, the partnership of students, teachers, and industry that works together to help provide a skilled workforce for the country. Monroig's students have been winning medals at the Washington State SkillsUSA competitions for over 20 years, and their performances have not been too shabby at their National Leadership and Skills Conference (NLSC) either.
Saving a Program
In March 1986, when Monroig inherited the ailing motorcycle program at LWTC, it was on it knees, with a meager 12 students enrolled. A series of short-term instructors coming and going through a revolving door left a trail of disgruntled students, upset with the lack of consistency and quality of the program.
The phrase "he was born to do this" applies perfectly to Monroig's role in resurrecting the program. He quickly set about surveying the local power equipment and marine markets, aligning their needs with what already existed in the motorcycle program. Soon he came up with a reformatted course that delivered the curriculum by operating system, rather than application. And that was just the beginning. . . .
Gradually building the program up to a healthy self-supporting size, Monroig looked for challenges and activities that would gain his program more respect and prestige within the motorcycle service community. In the course of judging at a local high school motorcycle service technology contest, he grew convinced that his students could compete successfully in such competitions. He set his sights on Washington State's Secondary and Postsecondary Association branch of SkillsUSA, which sponsors annual local, regional, and state-level competitions in over 60 trade and industry, technology, and health occupations, along with leadership-related areas.
Seeing these competitions as an opportunity to improve the quality and skills of his students, Monroig cajoled some into preparing for the competition. It has become standard practice for Monroig's students to win or place at the state SkillsUSA contests in the 20 years he's been sending students to them. And his student's success added another bonus-students succeeding in each area qualified for the national competition.
The first year at the NLSC in Louisville, one of Monroig's students placed 7th-"not bad for first time out," Monroig says. He studied the published contest standards closely, and the following year his student took First Place. As a result, the student received a valuable package of scholarships and tools, while the college got a new motorcycle to support its training program. The benefits of Monroig's vision and hard work were starting to materialize, with his students rising to the top of the national competition.
"In the years since, we've sent Washington State high school and postsecondary contestants to the NLSC, resulting in four First Place finishers and numerous Second and Third Place finishers. Program students have never finished out of the Top Ten," Monroig says.
Support from Harley-Davidson
Forming an industry partnership with Harley-Davidson seemed a natural progression. Long a partner with SkillsUSA, Harley-Davidson became interested in expanding its service training capacity in the mid-1990s. Harley wanted to offer dealers technician's training at the regional level around the country by adding two additional locations in addition to its home base in Milwaukee, WI.
A Harley-Davidson rep was assigned to work with the national SkillsUSA staff to identify training programs that had succeeded at the NLSC. Monroig's name came to the fore and the rest, as they say, is history. Lake Washington Tech became Harley's Pacific Northwest regional site for its Harley-Davidson University (HDU) in 2003.
What has this partnership meant in a time of eroding education budgets for Monroig's program and LWTC? For Monroig, Harley-Davidson has provided top-level training in current motorcycle engine management and emissions technology. He attends HDU's annual training conference in Milwaukee, where the HDU training staff hosts their counterparts from around the world. New model information is presented, and technical training materials are shared. This, in turn, is passed on to Harley dealers' technicians back in Washington during instructor-led Professional Harley-Davidson (PHD) classes, as well as to Monroig's LWTC students.
Harley-Davidson supplies LWTC with motorcycles, special tools, replacement parts, and laptop-based diagnostic systems, which would ordinarily be beyond Monroig's program budget. He gets brand-new motorcycles and trainers every year or two from HDU.
"When we first signed the contract for the agreement I received large boxes full of technical service manuals," Monroig tells me. "Several years ago they provided laptop computers with all information and diagnostic systems already loaded."
Monroig estimates he's graduated over 600 students through the HDU program, and another 600 from his school's Motorcycle, Marine & Power Equipment Service Tech program. And the industry loves him. Jim Knight, service manager at Eastside Harley-Davidson in Bellevue, WA, says of Monroig, "All of my techs have been through the PHD classes over there, about 18 to 20 of them. I think everything he does is up to par with anything you'll get at the Harley- Davidson PHD classes in Milwaukee." Knight adds, "I think he's one of the best in the country."
But none of this would have happened if Monroig did not have one crucial thing-outstanding teaching skills. As a fellow instructor at LWTC, I observed one of his classes, and was deeply impressed with his ability to captivate his students, many of whom sport tattoos. He had a tough crowd to preach to in those early days, and they wouldn't have stuck around if he was a poor teacher.
How does he do it? He presents theory and function in large group settings. His teaching materials include manufacturer's training videos (some provided by HDU), PowerPoint presentations, and student involvement using the whiteboard. He does demonstrations in small groups followed by what he calls "students practice to mastery," where his students complete small group and individual lab projects. He then grades them on their ability to perform tasks in the lab, along with project documentation.
Students' hands-on and written tests are factored into grades, along with their participation and employability skills. Monroig is old school in some ways. He insists on punctuality in his classes, emphasizing that tardiness is a good way to lose your job in the industry. He hammers the importance of good customer service into his students. A visit to his class is likely to result in a personalized tour by a well-groomed and courteous student who will tell you the program's objectives from rote memory.
Eastside Harley-Davidson's Knight says that one thing sticks out about the students from the nine students from Monroig's program that he has hired: "I really like the realities of life that Bob teaches the students at LWTC. They come into the work environment knowing that they have to fit in. And they're able to keep pace on the job. They know what to expect in the real work world and what the day-to-day grind will be."
This sort of training makes Monroig's students a high-demand commodity in the regional dealership market. Finding employment is generally not a problem for them because of their association with the LWTC program, especially with creative programming like the Harley- Davidson option to the AAS that is available to them.
There are good reasons why Monroig smiles on his way to work every day. He's his own master, and he generally gets what he needs for his program in the way of materials and resources because he has serious clout with the college's administration. What he can't get from Harley or other manufacturers is usually approved by the LWTC administration.
Career and technical education instructors are turning more and more to partnerships with industry to defray costs, add state-of-theart equipment to their inventory, improve the program's status and prestige, provide students with upto- date information, and guarantee employment for their students.
Monroig's programs and others like it serve as inspiration and working models to other technical instructors who are struggling to make ends meet with reduced program budgets.
Getting Involved in Industry Partnerships
Here's Bob Monroig's advice for other tech educators who are interested in starting industry partnerships:
- Get involved in SkillsUSA! Most leading manufacturers are corporate sponsors of SkillsUSA at the national level. Local participation can open doors-everyone is the hub of a network!
- Business and industry are used to having educators ask them for donations. The challenge is to identify what you might offer them such as custom training, or meeting space, or training labs. Keep in mind that partnership should always be a two-way street.
- Get involved with local dealers and make sure they know about your program.
Roy Stevenson is a freelance writer living in Bothel, WA.