Rush Truck Centers held its second annual technician skills rodeo in Nashville last month, part of a multi-pronged effort by the nationwide chain of Peterbilt dealerships to highlight the importance of training, as well as give technicians the appreciation they deserve.
“We had a 60% increase in applications for this year's rodeo vs. 2006,” Mike Besson, vp-service & body shop operations, told Fleet Owner. “We're hoping this contest — added to other efforts — will build some loyalty and reduce turnover among our techs.” Things like this are vital because it's getting harder to maintain a stable technician workforce, he pointed out.
The need for technicians is acute; they're retiring at a faster rate than replacements can be found. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that by 2012 annual demand for technicians should rise to 101,184, representing growth of 12.4% over the course of the current decade.
“We're trying to change the way technicians are viewed,” said Mike O'Brien, gm of the Nashville truck center. “For example, our 120,000 sq.-ft. facility here is heated and cooled to make the work environment better for our technicians. It costs $20,000 a month to heat and cool this building, but that's just 1% of our operating expenses. It's just good for business.”
About 529 Rush techs spent 10 months completing the coursework necessary to take the contest's “entrance exam,” but only the top 60 were invited to attend the two-day rodeo. Competing technicians were split into four divisions on the first day: Caterpillar engines, Cummins engines, Eaton components and medium-duty trucks. Up to 12 earned the right to compete in the general chassis segment on the second day.
The prize money is as serious as the contest. This year's winner, Dustin Ebert, of the Rush Truck Center in Phoenix, walked away with $14,500 in prize money and a $3 per hour pay raise. Ebert won first place in the medium-duty division ($5,000 prize); tied for first in the Eaton division ($4,500) and won best “all-around” honors on day two ($5,000).
“Recognition is part of our culture,” explained W. Marvin Rush, founder and chairman of Rush Enterprises, on hand to give out the awards. “Sure, it costs a little money; but this is the best money we've ever spent.”
The contest itself mimics real-world working conditions. Since the technicians have only 45 minutes to diagnose and fix a given problem, there's no room for error, said Ken Carter, service manager at Rush Oklahoma City.
“You need to make a lot of decisions in a very short amount of time, and if you go east when you should have gone west…there's probably not enough time to recover,” he said. “[But] you can solve the problem in 45 minutes if you've chosen the [right] path from all the possible solutions.”