Free OEM training courses: How free are they?

I have attended my share of “free” training courses offered by original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and/or their vendors. Most of them have been very good. But the one that stands out the most was the training portion of Caterpillar’s Quarry Days in 2006 at their Tinaja Hills facility near Tucson, Arizona. I attended sessions on fleet management using FPC and ground engaging tools, among others. And I remember thinking how much all this is costing CAT to provide these “free” courses.

This article was first posted in August 2012.

If you have spent any time in our industry, you would have been invited by a vendor to attend a free training session. Often these training sessions are quite good and provide useful professional development for engineers. Especially, if your company or mine uses equipment or software provided by that vendor. However, these sessions are also fraught with direct and indirect product placement and overt advertising. There is a legitimate reason for this, from the vendor/OEM perspective. These “free” (or highly subsidized) courses are really part of their advertising and customer service budgets. Hence, exposing participants to the OEMs product line and improving the customer service experience is definitely one of the objectives for footing the bill for such training. Even when they make the effort to avoid direct advertising, the indirect product placement through examples and case studies are almost always present. They can’t avoid it, even if they try!

These sessions are very much like the timeshare vacations, although, not that bad. I have always been one to negotiate by finding out what is in it for the other party. I find that it helps both of us and the negotiation process, if we try to understand what is in it for the other party. You should thus, go into these training sessions fully aware that the OEMs/vendors have an interest in marketing their product line to you and may not be as objective as you may wish. I didn’t expect the ground engaging tools session at CAT’s Quarry Days to tout the benefits of using ESCO adapters and teeth over CAT’s. Also, the presenters/instructors are the product of that OEMs design philosophy. Hence, they are likely to promote the advantages of products that are designed using that philosophy. They are not being dishonest or disingenuous, they may be honest in their bias.

So are OEM workshops and courses bad? No. Often, that is the only place you can add to your knowledge of these specialized systems (there aren’t many courses on ground engaging tools, for example). Also, in cases where your company or mine is already using that vendor’s product you may be better off learning how to get the most out of that tool. It doesn’t make sense for an engineer who uses MineSight for planning to be attending Maptek training sessions. However, it is naive to go into these sessions and not cross-check for yourself the assumptions and information presented. Especially when they present those case studies that compare several products/options from different vendors. I remember one such presentation at the SME Annual Meeting. The OEM was presenting analysis they did for a client on whether a used (to retrofit before using) or new dragline was the best for the client’s new mine, and the analysis was flawed in a way that resulted in the purchase of a new machine (the NPV was calculated over different time scales).

The other option is to obtain training from independent consultants, academics (not biased by significant funding from the OEM/vendor), and vetted articles. By vetted, I mean information that has been reviewed and approved by a third party. Most engineers assume articles in trade magazines are independent. They are not! In fact, they are often written by the same sales and product engineers from the OEMs who do the training sessions. Articles in peer-review journals are vetted through the peer-review process (other experts in that area are asked to review the article and tell the editor if it is worthy of publication). But most engineers find such articles too arcane and irrelevant. They may be. But there are some useful ones and they have the benefit of being vetted.

I will like to know what your experiences are with vendor/OEM provided courses. Have you attended some good ones? Have you attended some that had too much marketing? How do you think such training has biased you? Leave your comments below.

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