This month, the Technology and Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Associations is holding its fourth annual National Technician Skills Competition, or SuperTech, in conjunction with TMC's fall meeting in Nashville, Tenn.
The event was developed by TMC's Professional Technician Development Committee as a way to showcase the skill and knowledge of trucking industry technicians and to increase the visibility of career opportunities available for technicians. Industry experts report that 20,000-25,000 new truck technicians will be needed each year for the next 10 years.
"The increase in on-board electronic and computer-assisted diesel engines is requiring technicians to have a greater level of understanding and sophistication in performing their jobs," says TMC Technical Director Robert Braswell. "In addition, successful technicians today must possess the willingness to gain training, necessary skills and perform their job in new ways, such as using Web portals for service information and diagnostics."
The event has been so successful that many state trucking associations and trucking companies are holding their own technician competitions, sending the winners on to the national event.
Inside A Tmc Supertech Event
The competition consists of a first-round written challenge, followed by a hands-on skills challenge. Contestants take part in the first-round written challenge on day one of the competition. Following the written challenge, there is a reception where organizers announce the names of contestants who are eligible to compete on day two in the hands-on skills challenge. In 2007, there were 84 who went on to the hands-on competition.
The actual stations for the hands-on skill challenge vary from year to year. For 2007, there were 12 skill stations: electrical, brakes, HVAC, engines, steering/suspension, preventive maintenance inspection, drivetrains, service information, wheel end, tires and wheels, starting/charging and repair order test categories. This year two more were added.
Each challenge has been designed to test a technician's general knowledge in each functional area, without the need for expert familiarity with any particular tool, vehicle system or vehicle.
For instance, in the 2005 competition, the drivetrain station required contestants to correctly identify each component of the inter-axle differential and correctly assemble it to reflect its proper assembly in the forward carrier. Using service reference material at the workstation, the technician also answered questions and performed some minor assembly on subcomponents from a manual transmission and a front differential.
Scoring on the hands-on portion of the competition is tabulated by monitors using a detailed station score sheet developed by the station technical committee. Judging scores reflect an assessment of technical skills and knowledge, accuracy, and quality of workmanship. The judges are volunteers who are recognized experts within each contest area.
The last day of the SuperTech event consists of a technician training fair, featuring numerous hands-on job-related training classes that qualify for National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation (NATEF) continuing education units. That's followed by an awards banquet.
During the banquet, winning technicians not only get the thrill of recognition, but also some pretty impressive prizes. For instance, in last year's event, in addition to the TMC SuperTech2007 trophies, the first place winner received an all-expense-paid trip for two to the Daytona 500, a Snap-On Elite Series tool chest given chest valued at more than $11,000 from Nexiq Technologies, a T-1000 Coolant Dam with specialty adapters from Arctic Fox valued at $800, and a custom-made championship leather jacket. The second-place finisher also received an all-expense-paid trip for two to the Daytona 500. Panasonic provided each of the 12 station winners with a Panasonic Toughbook computer valued at $4,000. Skill stations winners also received a Nexiq Technologies USB-Link and a Noregon J-Pro Fleet Diagnostic tool.
The rest of the 84 skill station competitors each received an Acer laptop. All contestants receive official SuperTech cap and T-shirt, a certificate of participation and a gift bag of goodies provided by the sponsors.
The competition is open to any actively employed commercial vehicle technician. However, all competitors must be TMC Technician Members. Active members are eligible to enter the competition without fee. Nonmembers pay an entry fee and become members for the remainder of the year. Verified champions of state trucking association technician skills competitions may enter without paying a fee. Grand Champions of previous TMC National Technician Skills Competitions are eligible to compete.
Holding Your Own Contest
Many state trucking associations, service/dealer operations and individual fleets have expressed strong interest in establishing a new, or modeling an existing, technician skills competition based on the TMC SuperTech model. This can not only better prepare their champions to compete at the national level, but also improve technician skills and retention, and promote technician careers to the local community.
TMC notes that volunteer support is key to establishing a successful technician skills competition. It recommends establishing a core group of committed volunteers in some sort of officer or oversight committee format, to handle responsibilities such as the logistics of setting up skills stations, establishing contest rules and getting judges, promoting the event, coming up with prizes, and getting sponsors to help pay for the event.
Corporate, state or regional contests need not hold all the skills stations that TMC holds each year, notes the organization. The number of volunteers and resources available usually will determine how many stations can be practically held.
A Few Other Suggestions From Tmc:
It's a good idea to get as much participation from a diverse group of manufacturers and vendors, trade press, trade schools and educators as possible, whether as volunteers or sponsors.
If you can, hold the competition in conjunction with an existing event to help hold down costs.
Be sure the technician competitors are aware of the rules before the event starts. Have them sign a competition agreement and release.
Invite students from local high schools or vocational schools to observe the competition, and invite the local media to attend and cover the event. This helps get the message out to the general public about technician professionalism.
Invite local law enforcement and transportation department officials to attend - or even to participate as judges or organizers.
One trucking company that holds its own technician challenge is South Carolina-based Southeastern Freight Lines. For its fourth annual challenge recently, 13 technicians competed for the honor of representing SEFL at the TMC SuperTech event. Each had to qualify at the local level by participating in a battery of four written tests. The top 13 scorers were invited to compete in the skills challenge, conducted at the State Fairgrounds in Columbia, S.C. Fourteen workstations included areas such as engines, driveline, HVAC, electrical systems, wheel ends, tires/wheels, electronic order generation and more. A local TV station covered the competition.
"We have seen a great evolution in the four years that these competitions have been held," the company explained in an article for its newsletter. "As the years have passed, the amount of required technical expertise, as it relates to PC use, has risen dramatically. This is just another indicator of the way our industry is rising to the technological changes of our newer equipment."
For more information on TMC's SuperTech competition, go to TMC's main Web site at www.truckline.com/tmc.
COMMITTEE WORKING TO HELP COMPANIES FIND, TRAIN AND KEEP TECHNICIANS
The fourth annual SuperTech may be the most visible project of The Technology and Maintenance Council's Professional Technician Development Committee, but it's only a part of what this busy group has been working on to help the industry in its quest to find, train and keep technicians.
"This committee was founded by a group of individuals in TMC who desired to have the professionalism of the technicians recognized," explains Chairman Leland "Lee" Long, director of maintenance for Southeastern Freight Lines. "In the past, technicians have often been thought of as grease monkeys. You pull the hood on a truck today, you see that is long gone."
The committee has half a dozen active Task Forces working on projects such as:
A Web site with links to technician training resources, whether it be online training and reference materials from manufacturers and suppliers, hands-on OEM training, or training from third-party providers or government agencies. (www.truckline.com/aboutata/councils/tmc/trainingproviders)
Making resources more accessible to technicians on the shop floor. To this end, TMC added a special membership category for technicians, which includes TMC's Recommended Practices on a CD-ROM.
The possibility of setting up some type of certification standards for heavy fleet shops, much as ASE's NATEF (National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation) does primarily for for educational and manufacturer entities.
Scholarships for those who want to be technicians. TMC currently administers two and is looking to develop that further. (See more on page 58.)
Easing the transition of new technical school graduates into the technician job. "Often times we find a future technician comes out of school and they kind of get lost in the shuffle," Long says. "We're trying to come up with a way we can have some clear-cut guidelines for employers to be able to systematically and methodically bring them into the workplace so it won't be so overwhelming to them."
SCHOLARSHIPS HELP ATTRACT NEW TECHNICIANS
As part of the effort to attract a new generation of truck technicians, some organizations offer diesel truck technician scholarships.
The Technology and Maintenance Council offers scholarships in conjunction with WyoTech, a technical college with six locations across the country (www.wyotech.edu); and the University of Northwestern Ohio in Lima (www.unoh.edu).
TMC's Professional Technician Development Committee recently started a task force to increase the number of technician scholarships.
"We don't want anyone to not attend school [to become a technician] because of not having the resources available to them to do so," says Lee Long, chairman of the PTDC and director of maintenance at Southeastern Freight Lines.
Scholarships are also available through the Association of Diesel Specialists and the Henry and Esther Ortner Educational Foundation, which was established in 1994 following receipt of a gift from the estate of the widow of Henry Ortner Jr., the first ADS technical director. Since its inception, the program has awarded more than 220 scholarships totaling more than $100,000.
Last fall, ADS teamed up with the Global Automotive Aftermarket Symposium Scholarship Committee so students planning to pursue careers in diesel technology could apply for the ADS/Ortner Foundation scholarships online at www.automotivescholarships.org. Students who apply online receive consideration for the ADS scholarships along with scholarships from other organizations, such as the Automotive Aftermarket Association of the Carolinas and Tennessee, and the Automotive Parts and Service Alliance. The GAAS program is the joint professional education effort of a number of automotive and aftermarket associations.
There also have been some efforts at the state level. For instance, in 2006, a scholarship was founded by the North Carolina Truck Association Maintenance Council to provide merit-based financial assistance to students in the Heavy Equipment and Transport Technology curriculum at Wake Tech Community College in Raleigh, N.C. The Wisconsin Fleet Maintenance Council has offered a scholarship for students in the Diesel Equipment Mechanic program at Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton, Wis.
To help potential technicians seek out these programs, TMC's Professional Technician Development Committee is looking into developing an online resource where students can search for scholarships in their region of the country.