At Rush Enterprises' 3rd Annual Technician Skills Rodeo held in Nashville, TN, at the end of last year, Jason Swann emerged from a pack of 54 contestants to take the grand prize as the competition's top “all-around” technician. Swann, from the company's Rush Truck Center in Dallas, TX, and the grand champion in the contest's inaugural year in 2006, picked up a cash prize, an hourly raise and a new Snap-On tool chest worth several thousand dollars for the victory.
This is a signature yearly event that Rush and other sponsors, including Peterbilt Motors, Caterpillar, Cummins, Eaton, GMC, Mobil Delvac, and Snap-On Tools, spend 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-service operations, told Fleet Owner. “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.”
Besson helped design this 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 — 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 12 and those final 12 go on to compete for the cash prize and boosts to their hourly pay rate.
“The proof is in the turnover numbers,” notes W. M. “Rusty” Rush, the company's president and CEO. “Six years ago, our turnover was as high as 70 to 80%. A technician would leave over a 50¢ per hour raise. Today, turnover is down around 20 to 30% — one of the benefits to putting on this rodeo every year.”
Good technicians are hard to find and retain in this business, adds Marvin Rush, the company's founder and chairman, but something else is true as well: Good people get to be loyal people and stay with you if you treat them right. “We should have done this 20 years ago; it's pretty much a no-brainer,” he said. “In two years, we've doubled the number of our technicians participating.”