“This competition is in part designed to help these technicians realize how major a cog in this business they really are. The sales guy may sell the customer a truck the first time, but parts and services sells them the second and third truck in the business. Because, if the service isn’t good, they won’t be back.” –Ken Carter, service manager, Rush Enterprises’ Oklahoma City dealership
The wrenches are already turning and the keyboards are crackling as 54 technicians compete for prizes, raises in their hourly pay, and flat out cash in the third annual Rush Enterprises technician skills rodeo, being held here in Nashville, TN. The competing technicians each get 45 minutes at their particualr station -- one of nine heavy-duty trucks, ranging from a Peterbilt Model 387 to the lone black Model 379 tractor, down to one of three medium-duty models.
[Here's a look at the area where Rush's technicians are competing, along with a glance at some of the prizes they can win ...]
It’s a signature yearly event that Rush and other companies – Peterbilt Motors Co., Caterpillar, Cummins, Eaton, GMC, Mobil Delvac, and Snap-On Tools – spend some big money on to recognize the valuable role technicians play in the trucking industry.
“The technician’s job has changed dramatically over the last 10 years – it’s not even the same job anymore,” Mike Besson, Rush’s VP of service operations, explained to me. “You have to be so smart to do this job – understanding not just mechanically how things work but electronically as well. You need to be completely familiar with laptop computers now just as you are with hand tools. And you can't just figure out the problem -- you've got to fix it, too.”
[That's Mike Besson on the right.]
Besson helped design this signature event for Rush to not only recognize the value technicians bring to the table, but also shine a light on the rigors of the job as well. Over 500 technicians with Rush’s dealership network took written exams to qualify for this event – more than double the number from the first year the competition was held – with 54 top scorers in four divisions attending the rodeo. Over the course of a day, that number gets whittled down to 15 – and those final 15 go on to compete for the big cash prize and boosts to their hourly pay rate.
Many technicians find the competitive atmosphere difficult, Ken Carter, service manager for Rush’s Oklahoma City dealership, told me – largely because they are so used to helping each other out on the shop floor. But once they get here, that all changes, he said. “It’s a big deal and they all get psyched up for it,” he explained.
Carter brought six technicians to the competition this year, four rookies and two “veteran” competitors from the 2007 rodeo – Michael Willoughby and Pat Driscoll, both of whom graced this space before. To Carter, it shows that rodeo is having its intended effect – shining a well-deserved spotlight on the hard work technicians do.
“We’re the dirty end of the business – truck sales tend to get all the attention and glory,” he noted. “So what we’re doing here is giving the technicians appreciation for what they do – to boost their self esteem. With the economy as tough as it is, customers are on edge and that stress gets pushed down to guys repairing their trucks. No matter how fast and thorough they work, it’s never enough, it seems. So this competition helps them understand the key role they play in the dealership.”
[Below, Mike Besson and Ken Carter explain in their own words why technicians are important in the trucking industry today ...]