Interview with Ian Matje, Technical Trainer at Iron Buffalo

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Iron Buffalo Truck & Trailer
February 22, 2024
Ian Matje, Technical Trainer at Iron Buffalo

Recently, we took a break from servicing the fleets of Colorado to sit down with Ian Matje, our technical trainer, and pick his brains. We asked him everything, from the specifics of his role to his opinions on the heavy-duty repair industry as a whole. So, without further ado, we’ll let Ian take it from here. 

1. Could You Introduce Yourself, Who You Are, and What You Do, Please?

Absolutely. Ian Matje, I am the technician trainer at Iron Buffalo. I've been working with Austin and Mike, the owners here, in a kind of secondary role in regard to things like consulting and assisting for about four years now. 

I was originally the high school instructor for a local program in Colorado. That's how I met them because they were looking for mechanics, and that's where we hit it off in regards to finding mechanics. Then, I held advisory meetings twice a year where industry partners came down and really impacted the actual training the students were getting.

What I'm doing now is high-level diagnostics. It's stuff that the average mechanic can't figure out. Then, training the mechanics in RPs or processes for diagnosis—things of that nature—is also needed.

2. Could You Explain What You Do in Your Role—an Overview of a Day in the Life of What a Training Manager Does?

I start my day working with the service manager directly. Or, because we work two shifts here if I have a problem child from the night before, I deal with it in the morning if it arises after I leave. But if there's nothing directly for me to do individually, what I'll do is physically just be with technicians throughout the shop and see what the service manager has been assigned. 

Specific technicians go through the actual list for the day for assigned work and pick-up. I can help out with maybe making some process changes there. Or if I have somebody doing a major repair or if I vetted them in a certain component, let's say we have a technician who is certified in brakes, and they are working on brakes for today. I'm not going to waste my time working with them on something that I've already vetted them on. 

So I look for things that technicians haven't vetted through the shop yet through our own kind of training program that we've built. And if I see those things, I'll work one-on-one with that technician throughout that job. Either giving pointers, doing process changes, or training specifically for whatever rep might be current for that specific job.

3. Do You Prefer Doing Days or Nights, and Why?

Honestly, I prefer...neither.

For me, I have two younger kids with some rather severe special needs. So my wife is at home with them. I'm the major breadwinner for the house. So, it makes it kind of hard for me to get a schedule where I can be home and help as I would like to. But it allows me to change my schedule enough, or if they have appointments during the day for doctor's visits, things like that. 

I can decide a month ahead of time. Okay. I'm going to be on nights this week, and then I can build my schedule around that. So I don't really mind either way. I'm a workaholic. So if there's work to be done, I'm going to be here. So the shift doesn't matter.

4. What Would You Say Makes Iron Buffalo Different From the Competition Out There?

I've been a mechanic for going on 20 years now. I've seen a lot of different shops. I've seen a lot of models that suck, and I wouldn't recommend anybody to work there.

The ownership here makes all the difference, most specifically because they're hands-on every day. And it's not in the way of your typical manager, where they're like, "Oh, we're not making enough money. What are you guys doing?” 

They come from the business world. So, it's a totally different outlook on the business itself. Because most of your shop owners will be mechanics or have been in the industry. These guys know nothing about the industry; they learn as they go, but they have a good business mindset. They know how to run a successful business.

They know how to handle people and customers, which is not the norm for this industry. So it's really nice to have a group of people who have shaped the culture here. We're all a team; we all work together. And if you have a question or concern, you're not worried about going up to management and saying, “Hey, I'm seeing this,” because they actually listen. 

And then, once again, with that people management side, because they come from the business world, they do things differently, not only with the employees regarding wages, where there's a bi-annual review process here. They're not afraid to give raises, but they're also focused on bettering the people they have here.

5. Aside From the Ownership Being Unique to the Industry, What's the Best Part About Working at Iron Buffalo?

It's always something new.

There are so many vehicles coming through the shop, someone like me. I hated the shops I worked at, where I was standing around all day. I did not have anything to do, or if I was doing PM constantly.

But I like figuring out really goofy stuff, right? These are weird problems that nobody else can find or handle. That's where I get my personal joy from my own satisfaction, right? And there are so many moving pieces here. 500 to 600 trucks a month go through the shop, and there's never a dull moment. So I'm able to keep my mind busy and also interact with so many different people who come from so many different backgrounds and then directly affect them on a daily basis in a positive manner.

6. You Said You've Been Doing This for 20 Years. So Let's Go All the Way Back to That. Why Did You Want to Become a Mechanic?

So for me, it was my dad, who was a world-class GM mechanic in the eighties and nineties. My grandfather was a machinist for several aerospace programs. So I was always around making things or cars because my dad would, in typical mechanic fashion, have cars all over the place where he was working. 

So I just grew up around it, and then, kind of a role reversal here, when I got into high school, my local high school here in Colorado had an automotive program. So, I was already into it and wanted to see what it was about. Maybe learn how to fix my own car? 

I didn't really go into it as “I want to be a mechanic.” It was more. I love cars, and it's a passion, and I want to grow that. So I joined my local high school program, went through that for 3 years, got out in the world, and popped into, well, some rather not-fun personal things that happened in those years of my life. But it pushed me to find a job or live on a park bench, right? And with my background in my passion, I decided to use it directly to make money.

7. If There's One Thing That You Could Change About the Heavy-Duty Repair Industry as a Whole, What Would It Be?

Access to information, specifically as a level technician. Unless you have good diagrams, good flow charts, or just good basic vehicle information of components or locations, or anything regarding the information of vehicle systems.

If you don't have that, you can't be an effective technician. Unless you've worked on the vehicle in the past and it’s “Hey, I know where this thing is at,” it's tough, especially for entry-level technicians or people who haven't been in the industry for a while or who haven't gotten to that level of technician where they can make their own process or their own flow chart and how to do their own testing. 

It makes it extremely difficult for your average technician to be successful. So the EMS has access to information. They just don't necessarily give it out to the aftermarket as quickly, right? 

If you're working as a dealer tech, you have access to whatever you need. The minute you hit an independent shop, good luck. So access to information and doing things in a consistent manner so that one manufacturer is not saying, “Oh, well, I'm gonna change my J 19 39 protocol to this, and you need the special adapter or whatever makes it universal and make it accessible.”

8. So What Is the One Tool You Could Not Live Without as a Heavy Mechanic?

A good scan tool. 

You can't touch anything on a truck without having access to vehicle information systems. So if you don't have access to information, sure, anybody can diagnose a knock, a water leak, or something like that. 

But when you really get into these vehicles and the problems that they have, you have to have a good scan tool. And I know this is more than one tool, but then the information to back that scan tool up. 

9. What Is the Funniest Thing That Has Ever Happened on the Shop Floor (That You Can Talk About)?

Oh, I have way too many of them. I had a technician one time, and I have this conversation with my mechanics all the time. I call it man vision. Where you're working on something, and it's kicking your butt. You're looking at it, and literally, you've been staring at the problem the entire time. And your blinders are on, and you can't see it, even though it's right in front of your face. 

So a mechanic was trying to get access to a component on a vehicle underneath the truck, just getting drowned in every single fluid that he could get near him, sliding around all over the place. I walk over to him, unplug the connector from under the hood, and hand it to him as he's underneath the truck. He literally slides out from underneath the truck, goes to stand up, and skateboards across the shop, but in that process, he pants himself.

I don't think I got off the floor for five minutes after that one. So not only was the poor guy embarrassed to hell, but he also had to come back and realize that he spent 3 hours trying to get a connector that I handed to them in 2 seconds.

10. What is the most important thing to remember as a heavy-duty mechanic?

Your five senses. 

Use your eyes. Use your ears. But also use your head, because half the time it's something stupid or simple, and you're overcomplicating it. So, be able to take a step back and look at the whole picture, right? It really comes down to using what you already have as your own person to make a good mechanic and being willing to learn and grow.

If you want to benefit from the expertise of not just Ian but our entire technical team, make sure you choose Iron Buffalo for all of your heavy-duty repair needs in Colorado