More than 100 technicians came together to compete during the Technology & Maintenance Council’s 2018 National Technician Skills Competition, SuperTech, that tests the knowledge and capabilities of truck service and repair technicians from across the country. Winning techs said ongoing education from their employers and equipment and component manufacturers contributed to their success.
Kyle Ballard, a technician for Clarke Power Services and a top-ten finisher at SuperTech, said he gets most of his training on the job.
Clarke Power Services has three full-time training centers and averages a minimum of 120 instructor-led classes a year, explained Mike Dowling, director of training for the company. Training covers everything from engines and transmissions to specific elements, such as electrical diagnostics, wheel ends and brakes.
“We’re fortunate here that we have a corporate leadership that really values the training our techs receive,” Dowling said, adding that Clark Power Services offers an in-house program for technicians to prepare for ASE master certification.
Michael Kerfoot, a technician for TravelCenters of America and first-place winner in the competition's trailer track, said the truck stop chain provides training as well as an in-house tech competition that helps employees improve their skills. “Other than that, it is a lot of reading and studying to prepare on changes coming up,” Kerfoot said.
The Technology & Maintenance Council provides members with its recommended practices, and Kerfoot said following procedures could enable any tech to find the problem. “If you have a documented procedure that walks you through step by step, you’re going to find the problem 95% of the time,” he said.
Mark McLean, a technician for FedEx and the 2017 SuperTech Grand Champion, said that he has seen the TMC manual increase in size drastically since 2011. “Not only have the tests gotten harder, but they’ve opened up the competition to more areas of the vehicle,” he said. “It is not easy. The people who write the test bring their A-game.”
Simply taking part in the competition is a good learning experience, McLean said. "You get exposed to the testing, and you can see where your weaknesses are and go back and improve. Getting the education from the stations, meeting the vendors and learning where to find information is what has made me a better technician,” he said.
Phillip Pinter, a tech for FedEx and the 2018 SuperTech Grand Champion, said he spent a lot of time studying and gained experience at last year’s SuperTech competition. “When you’re done, they give you your scores. I went over that, and I tried to take the weaknesses I had last year and turn them into my strengths,” he said.
Once Pinter knew what he needed to study, he found textbooks and manufacturer information to help him prepare. “The fact that I can challenge myself with a competition to go through and find my weaker areas gives me a direction for studying so I can better myself and become a better technician,” he said.
Pinter said both Meritor and Bendix provide valuable training through their online training schools. “They’re competitors, but they both have a good broad education you can take on their websites,” he said, adding that most manufacturers have online training or reference materials techs can use to get additional information.
FedEx also provides ongoing training to techs, and McLean teaches an electrical class for the fleet. However, he said he realizes not all techs have that type of training available. “There is always a joke about being YouTube certified, but there really is a wealth of information on YouTube,” he said, adding that manufacturers, such as Purkeys, offer videos and webinars online. “Utilizing the resources that are out there would be the fastest way to get your feet wet.”
McLean started as a technician in 2007 with FedEx while still in school. “School taught me the basics, but it didn’t fully prepare me for what is in the real world,” he said, adding that he found a more experienced technician to mentor him. “To have a mentor to guide you, teach you the right ways to do things and help you when you get stuck is big for someone new in the industry.”
Pinter, who has been with FedEx for three years after switching over from the automotive side, said he values the latitude the company gives him as he works to repair a truck. “For the most part, I can go through and take my time, educating myself as necessary and getting the information required to make an accurate diagnosis,” he said.
This year's competitors, as well as their employers, said they encourage all techs to compete. “You may not do really well your first year, but it is definitely an experience,” Kerfoot said.
Clarke Power Services’ Dowling said it is nice to see the company’s employees want to be the best among the best. “There is no better platform than these competitions to expose technicians to the latest technology and equipment,” he said.