Growing your own title

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KOSCO creates a unique, committed and successful service-tech training program

A few weeks ago Fuel Oil News met with Alan Mercurio, named in 2005 as Associate Member of the Year by the National Association of Oil Heating Service Managers. Also sitting in was Brian Pruiksma, the service supervisor for KOSCO in Kingston, N.Y.

KOSCO, or the Kingston Oil Supply Corp., has been in existence for over 75 years and has more than 150 employees. Vice presidents Barry and David Motzkin manage the company and are the sons of the former owners Arthur and Alvin Motzkin. KOSCO is a subsidiary of Getty Petroleum Marketing of East Meadow, N.Y. Its main office is located in Port Ewen, N.Y. with other offices in Kingston, Rhinebeck, Catskill and Hudson, N.Y. KOSCO provides 24-hour service, installs heating equipment and delivers fuel oil, propane, diesel and gasoline throughout the Hudson Valley.

Fuel Oil News: Alan, in a few sentences tell us where and when you first met Brian.

Alan Mercurio: It was a few years ago, September 2003, to be exact. And it all started with a phone conversation. An associate within the industry had passed my name on to Brian, and for that, I must say I’m very grateful.

It did not take long, while talking with Brian on the phone, to realize we both shared many of the same views and goals. Needless to say, we set a date to have me do a two-day workshop (at KOSCO) with consideration of doing some other workshops in the future, provided Brian and his company were satisfied with the results of the first two workshops.

As you know, it turned out they have been utilizing my services for over two-and-a-half years now, not missing a single month and usually having me there for a minimum of one week and on some occasions two weeks a month. I guess they are satisfied!

FON: Brian, what was it about Alan that encouraged you to bring his expertise in training and development to KOSCO?

Brian Pruiksma: I had spoken to a few manufacturing representatives regarding an expanded training program that I wanted to develop to better train and enhance the knowledge of our technicians. The training we have received from the manufacturers for years had been great, but equipment-specific. We felt we needed more of a ‘hands-on” intensive training program with more variety offered. The other reason was that we lacked the staff ourselves to commit to full-time training.

The upper management staff at KOSCO and I felt that if our company was going to grow, we needed to maintain and expand our workforce with training. One of the manufacturing reps that trained for us mentioned Alan Mercurio’s name to me when I discussed some of KOSCO’s training plans with him. He suggested that I contact Alan and believed that he was the guy I may be looking for, highlighting his honesty and commitment to training in the oil industry. I had heard of Alan previously and believe that I read one of the articles he had written, so his name was familiar.

I believe it was on that same day that I contacted Alan and asked if he would be interested in developing some training classes for me. He and I arranged to meet to discuss the company’s plans and to work out the details to have him start. Initially, we thought we’d bring him in now and then for training, but that immediately changed to having him come in at least once a month for a week at a time.

When I first met Alan, my first impression was that he was extremely interested in sharing his knowledge with fellow technicians. He had his Web site dedicated to this and you got the feeling that this guy had a real interest and desire to train. I also found Alan to be extremely honest, trustworthy and grounded with a strong faith in God. All of this convinced me that he was the guy my men would respect and look up to for answers and technical guidance.

From that point on, Alan and I worked closely over the following months to develop a technician training program together at KOSCO that met the expectations and goals set by the upper management staff at KOSCO, specifically that of vice president Barry Motzkin.

FON: Alan, we spoke about goals when we met. My understanding is that you are training and riding along with the service technicians as they grow in their job skills. Could you expand on exactly the type of tasks and format you bring the service techs through?

Mercurio: Sure. We start with a week of hands-on workshops that include my Team Players workshop, the Oil Tech Talk burner workshop and plenty of hands-on exercise based on what the technicians learned through the presentations. I have a number of diagnostic simulators and burners that they have to either diagnose, or in some cases tear down completely and rebuild. This gives them a great opportunity to become familiar with the equipment.

One of the great things about having this training in KOSCO’s personal training room is all the fully operational equipment I have access to, to utilize during my training sessions.

We also have the technicians review all the current NORA videos and have them take a test afterwards. Then we have open discussions. You know, a good Q&A session.

Now, these technicians will be assigned to work with a senior technician for about six months. Brian takes care of that. During the six months, they will attend additional training where there will be a mix of techs in training and experienced technicians.

Brian, myself and the senior technicians communicate regularly as to how the technicians in training are doing. When a senior technician feels the technician in training is ready to do preventative maintenance work Brian will schedule me to work with that technician.

We spend the entire week just doing preventative maintenance calls and by the end of the week, providing I feel the technician is ready, I will approve that technician for this level of work. Brian will assign a service van of his own to them. We stay in close communication with that technician for about another six months and they will attend additional training throughout this time.

FON: Brian, it seems KOSCO, at the corporate level, decided to train or grow its own force of service technicians. And it seems this philosophy fits with your plan to expand and grow the account or customer list, also. How do you feel this commitment to training is different at KOSCO versus some of the more traditional ways of employing service techs?

Pruiksma: The commitment at KOSCO is unlike any philosophy for training and recruiting service technicians that I’ve seen anywhere else in the industry. We have all had good and bad experiences hiring technicians that have worked for other companies, only to find out that good and bad habits have a tendency to follow an employee from company to company. From our point of view, we have found that there are not as many good technicians with experience out there to hire, as there have been dead ends and bad experiences.

With that said, we decided to begin a campaign to interview and hire what we perceived to be good mechanically minded people (former auto mechanics, tradesmen, electricians and machinists, etc.) with good trainable attitudes and personalities. The result has been a success and we have been blessed with a great, growing staff of technicians.

FON: We looked over the variety of heating appliances at your training center. It appeared there were as many and they were as varied as some training centers that we have seen run by state associations or dedicated training facilities. Why is having several different work/troubleshooting appliances important for your service force?

Pruiksma: We developed and built our training facility for our technicians, to provide them with ‘real life” hands-on opportunities to train on equipment they will work on in the field. As industry changes advance and new equipment is available, we plan to expand and update our facility equipment. If any of our technicians is having difficulty troubleshooting something, we can send the technician down to the training facility to get the hands-on training he may need. Whether it’s wiring a zone valve, circulator relay, troubleshooting, wiring a power venter or learning something about steam, we provide the training here. l FON

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