A palpable sense of excitement and anxiety was in the air at Swift Transportation’s sprawling complex on the outskirts of Phoenix last month, as technicians showed off their skills in the annual SwiftTech technician competition. The competition pits maintenance personnel against each other in timed troubleshooting trials, not unlike the American Trucking Associations’ Technology & Maintenance Council SuperTech competition. But Swift is taking it a step further.
Planning for the event starts six months ahead of time, explained Angel Chavez, director of shop training operations and compliance. Chavez has been at Swift for more than a decade, and the SwiftTech competition is, in part, his brainchild.
Each technician is given a truck with a pre-determined problem and tasked with identifying and troubleshooting the problem to the satisfaction of an on-the-spot judge. A bullhorn sounds at the end of each timed event to alert participants that time’s up. A complicated schedule indicates which technicians should be at which station, at what time.
Chavez, a technician before moving into his role as head of training at Swift, explained that sometimes a really good technician can get lost in the world of test scores. Some employees might have an intuitive ability to understand a maintenance problem but have a harder time explaining it on pen and paper.
So instead of relying solely on test scores, Swift allows the maintenance directors at each terminal to choose who they want to compete in SwiftTech. This allows somebody who isn’t the absolute best test taker to have a shot at competing based on the director’s knowledge of his or her actual work.
This year the competition was broadened to include not just tractor technicians, but also trailer techs, tire techs, and parts personnel. The technicians came from Swift terminals across the U.S., flown into Phoenix for the two-day event, which also includes training sessions the day after the competition. Competitors are hosted at a nice hotel and get a chance to meet other top Swift technicians from around the country. At the end of the day, scores are tallied and the winners announced at a dinner and ceremony. Like a mini Stanley Cup, the top winner and top region take trophies back to their terminal and display for the year.
“This is about celebrating technicians,” said Phil Mellor, recruiting supervisor at Swift. “They can network with other technicians and get recognized for their special skills.”
Mellor participated in the competition earlier in his career when he was a technician. Not competitive by nature, he said he was at first uninterested in winning. However, once he got a chance to see and meet the kind of technicians who win the event, he came back the next year more prepared to make a better showing.
“Being in the competition gives technicians good exposure and opens up opportunities for them when they arise,” Mellor said.
It’s well known that trucking is experiencing an industry-wide shortage of technicians. Technicians may move on from a company for a variety of reasons ranging from professional to personal, Mellor said. And while the SwiftTech competition isn’t necessarily viewed as a retention tool, he added, technicians who participate tend to stick around for a long time.