NOW I’ve been to Sydney University, a vast, sprawling centre of knowledge. Old, worldly, sandstone statues, etc. However, I’ve heard of the Harley-Davidson University (HDU) and thought, well, that’s obviously in the USA. A bit of research tells me HDU occupies the old distribution centre at H-D HQ in Milwaukee and has been in existence since 1917, almost as long as the company itself.
William S Harley graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. Willie G Davidson also graduated from the University of Wisconsin. Erik Buell attained his degree in Engineering in Pittsburgh. So it’s only fair that technicians should also graduate from Harley-Davidson’s own university.
In 1917 the military placed an order for 20,000 motorcycles, and in order for servicemen to service and maintain the vehicles in the field, they would need to be trained on the technical aspects. A smaller group of nine corporals were selected to go through what was the Quartermasters course. Various other organisations, mostly police forces who took delivery of their vehicles, were also enrolled for courses on servicing and advanced riding techniques and parade riding. The technical and mechanical side of the university was doing well in training. The sales and marketing people were to follow, learning how to sell vehicles to customers and keep them coming back. Early days of corporatisation.
Fast forward to today and HDU has 25 full-time staff and 20 contractors, partner schools teaching 8000 students annually in six locations across the USA. As well as 300,000 courses conducted online in various languages since 2001.
So here we are at Ground Zero.
Now I find myself in Sydney’s leafy Lane Cove, home to more IT companies than motorcycles. H-D Australia’s headquarters is striking in its appearance and location, surrounded by bushland as well as being close to the city. I enter through a side door and into a state-of-the-art workshop with words boldly displaying ‘Harley-Davidson University’.
For a while I felt like a Harley technician myself. It reminded me of TAFE and apprenticeships. Back in my memory, teachers of grey coats with pens, pencils and French chalk and steel rulers in their top pockets, going from bench to bench, checking your work. But this is today, not the 70’s and 80’s. Today’s class was not making car stands.
This class was delving into the complete workings of the advanced audio systems of the Harmon Kardon radio, Bluetooth, GPS, infotainment, satellite, iPod, iPhone, audio microphone from a Harley’s main wiring harness.
This was followed by a theory and practical exam of 40 minutes allowing for only four questions wrong. If you failed, you would sit the whole class again. If you were from interstate, that would mean a big headache. So pay attention.
The syllabus is worldwide and going up the ladder to achieve rock star status in your own workshop is what it’s all about. Not only are you revered by your peers, you deliver faultless customer service. It also allows the humble mechanic to become part of a worldwide family. Travelling the world with these skills is a great way to meet people and broaden your career and the cultural exchange is an added bonus.
Next time you’re getting your bike serviced at a Harley-Davidson dealership, you know these guys take their profession seriously enough to go to university. Congratulations to all who completed the course.
Article submitted by Dale Wahren