“What customers really need when it comes to their trucks are dependable, qualified technicians.” -Vaughn Allen, vice president-product and customer support for Navistar Truck Group.
Finding technicians these days, much less training and keeping them at trucking dealership and fleet maintenance depots for the long haul, is getting harder all the time. That‘s one reason we‘re seeing a lot more “technician rodeos” designed to raise their collective profile and give them some much needed public props.
Last week, for example, Navistar held its second annual Service-Technician Rodeo at the Universal Technical Institute (UTI) in Glendale Heights, IL, to compete in air conditioning, brakes, drive train, electrical and preventative maintenance scenarios for a range of commercial trucks, along with issues involving Navistar‘s I-6, V-8 and V-6 engine lines.
(Navistar's tech rodeo winner, Per Meling, with his game face on.)
To compete in eight key areas of commercial truck and engine service, Navistar dealer technicians had to have Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification for the U.S. or Canadian Provincial Licensing for Canada, along with company certifications as well. Out of a population of 8,004 Navistar dealer technicians (a number that does not include the 5,000 or so body shop and Idealease techs that fall under Navistar‘s large maintenance umbrella) only 342 were eligible, according to Vaughn Allen, vice president-product and customer support for Navistar.
From those 342, about 250 took the rodeo online qualifying exam on March 6 and out of that group, eight technicians got the chance to compete at Navistar‘s rodeo this year. “Only an elite group are allowed to participate in this event,” Vaughn told me in a phone conversation last week. “It‘s a head-to-head, hands-on test of their technical skill and speed. The competition tests not only their practical know-how but their theoretical knowledge as well.”
(Close inspection is part of the trade.)
Per E. Meling of White‘s International Trucks in Greensboro, N.C., won the top honors at Navistar‘s rodeo this year and he exemplifies what Vaughn believes the truck technician for today and tomorrow looks like.
“Today, it‘s all about situational awareness,” he told me. “It‘s a different game, because you learn something new, a new technique, every day in this business. So much of a truck is electronically controlled that it‘s a much more ‘point and click‘ type of solution-finding environment. It‘s more about following the processes and becoming a specialist in certain key areas. Like hospital doctors today, there are no real ‘generalists‘ anymore - everyone becomes an expert in a specific area, like spinal surgeons, radiologists, etc.”
Etienne Van Niekerk, service education manager for Navistar, added that the learning really never ends anymore for technicians. They are constantly getting new information via the Internet, DVDs, and the classroom, plus it‘s broken down into what he calls “just in time” and “just in case” information.
“‘Just in time‘ information is situational - delivered as a technician works on a particular problem, when the repair isn‘t going like it should be,” Van Niekerk explained to me. “‘Just in case‘ information is more broad, addressing different areas outside the specific skill set of the technician, should the repair issue widen into new areas.”
Either way, Van Niekerk said that the ever-increasing complexity of trucks is making technicians much more reliant on information sorting like this than ever before - creating a shift from turning wrenches to a more ‘point and click‘ type of work mode.
“It‘s impossible for one person to know every system on a truck; that‘s creating information resources available at the technician‘s fingertips is so vital,” Vaughn added. “And it‘s why following the process and sifting through the layers of a repair issue to find the root cause is so important today. Recognition of those challenges and the ability of out technicians to overcome them is but one reason why we are holding these rodeos.”