Think again: SuperTech Skill Station Chairs get almost as much out of the event as the technicians!
We asked some of the SuperTech2009 Skill Station Chairs to share their thoughts with us about why they volunteer, what they think the technicians get out of competing, and, of course, how being a part of SuperTech enhances their own skills as trainers:
Supertech Chair--Business Development Executive for Delmar Cengage
"Coming from the automotive side, and what I do in my normal job, my thing has always been: find out what the customer needs, and give it to them. The same thing holds with the contest. It's great to have the contest, it's great to have awards, and all that, but the other piece is that if we ask the technicians to demonstrate skills that they should be doing day-to-day in their jobs, then when they complete the competition, they can take their scores, and with their bosses, they should be able to look and see where the strengths are, and where there are areas for improvement where training needs to be done. For a fleet that sends lots of technicians, if they're not gathering all of the data from all of their techs, and determining if there are any consistencies, then they're missing one of the best opportunities to determine where they should be spending their training dollars. That's especially important with the economy the way it is.
"For me, not being a truck guy, but being a former educator working with industry, if we're able to give back to the company that supports SuperTech information that they can use to more cost-effectively spend their training budget, then you know what? We've served a huge purpose."
Fastener Repairs Chair--Shop Supervisor, Crum Trucking
"SuperTech gives the technician the ability to see industry standards on repair procedures that they can take back to their shops. I believe that once a technician gets the taste of the competition, and they see what rewards are at stake, the craving begins to learn all that they can before the next competition. This in turn gets the competitive juices flowing amongst many technicians in their shops, where they may have to compete against each other for the opportunity to be sent to SuperTech by their company. The technicians then become an even greater asset to the company, because of their knowledge expansion.
"In my mind, not following the instructions given to them by the skills station will be the fastest way to guarantee NOT winning the competition.
"But then again, only following the instructions, and forgetting to follow regular safety practices will also guarantee NOT winning the competition. I have seen technicians take their safety glasses off while sitting at a table flipping through the pages of a book looking for the proper procedure or spec, and then forget to put the glasses back on to do the hands-on part of the skill. I have also seen technicians key the chuck of a drill without unplugging it.
"Some of the best technicians that I was able to watch in last year's competition had the skill of talking to themselves out loud so that the judge could hear, as well as see, what they were doing."
Steering & Suspension Co-Chair--Assistant to the Director of Education for Engine City Tech
"Each year we try to change the Stations up a bit to keep them fresh. Sticking with the basics yet challenging the technicians at their level is a challenge for the Station Chairs especially. You have to put together a task that can be done in the allotted time, that is simple and basic enough to test their skill sets, advanced enough for the repeat competitors, so they're not seeing the same thing each year, but level the playing field for all the people that are entered.
"The biggest skill set being tested is not so much memory & recall. It's 'look-up skills,' where to find the information. We do provide either the manufacturer's literature or TMC Recommended Practices, and so a significant amount of it is looking things up, and then understanding what they have found.
"Absolutely, unquestionably, SuperTech has made me a better trainer. It makes me study for the task, which for me, as an instructor for the past 35 years, makes me stay sharp, and current. So, it drives me into the books and literature as much as we're driving the technicians into the books!"
Wheel End Chair--National Service Manager, Consolidated Metco
"Just like in the shop environment, to successfully compete, the technician will have to understand the requirements, pick the proper parts and tools, and then follow the service information. The Skill Station will typically provide verbal and written information on the requirements of the work station.
"It is a good practice to quickly review the available service information and then read all of the questions and requirements before beginning. If there are both written and hands on activities in the work station, the contestant must decide which portion to do first and then budget his time to be able to complete all of the requirements within the given time frame. This is much like planning a job in a shop environment.
"Essential tools for this Skill Station are a dial indicator and torque wrench, as well as various hand tools and component installation tools like seal drivers and ABS tone ring installation tools."
Engine Mechanical Chair--Associate Dean, University of Northwestern Ohio
"One of the best things the competitors get out of SuperTech is seeing what they can share with the other technicians, as far as their skills, seeing how technicians from other companies do things differently, how you can learn from somebody else. It's that shared knowledge. Also the tech sessions we do after the skills contest are very helpful to a lot of the techs.
"A lot of the points lost by contestants come from not following directions from the manufacturer for that Skill Station. You may know how to do the job, you may have always fixed something in a certain way in the past, and it might have worked for you, but that's not the way the manufacturer recommends it. Especially with today's engines, if you skip steps, you could have broken parts later. So that's one of the crucial things we're going to grade on, especially at my station: being able to follow the steps recommended by the manufacturer.
"One of the big things I like about the contest is talking to all the techs. There are a lot of people from different areas coming together, and I get a lot of enjoyment out of talking to the different techs about what they've learned, and what they see coming in the future in their own jobs. I like to hear their take on things; that way I know what to teach my guys, who are just now entering the field. A lot of the techs we get are very skilled and have a lot of years of experience, so I like to get their opinion on what should be taught.
"Essential tools for this skill station include torque wrench and depth gauges, and knowing how to properly use them when doing a valve adjustment or installing the turbo or fuel pump."
Engines Chair--Department Coordinator, Diesel and Advanced Diesel Technology, Wyotech
"We're going to be testing the technicians' knowledge on Caterpillar Electronic Technician diagnostics. Basically, they need to be familiar with Cat engines and Cat diagnostics. We've done Detroit Diesel twice, Cummins and Cat once, and we're on our second go-around with Cats.
"We can't keep doing the same thing. Ultimately, we've been seeing a change in the technicians. They are getting trained better, they are more prepared for this contest, so we have to try even harder to keep them challenged. We have to change with them.
"I think a lot of the fleets have found through this contest that there are areas where they could be training. They have bought into this so well that they are doing internal competitions, so that their end product--the technician who will go to TMC SuperTech--is the best of the best in their organization.
"What the technicians get out of the competition varies. A lot of your fleet guys probably learn more about areas that they don't necessarily work on, due to warranties, etc., whereas you've got some dealer guys who may not deal with some fleet-side stuff. That's what's great about this particular contest: it's not geared for any one person out there in the industry. Everybody's going to have their strengths, everybody's going to have their weaknesses, and that's why you have to score consistently over all the areas to really place in the top end.
"Preparation is key, whether they do their own research on their own time, whether they seek out training on their own, or whether it's preparation provided by their employer.
"There are a few technicians who have the contest anxiety factor, but I think the guys who have been here a few times are beyond that. So, just keeping a calm, level head at each Skill Station is priceless.
"Since we're doing electronic diagnostics on the engine, the essential tool for this Skill Station is basically a PC or laptop with software-based diagnostics. On top of that, the technician needs a good quality multi-meter and a full set of leads to go with that. Each manufacturer wants you to use specific pins for doing things like sensor troubleshooting and harness pin-out tests; you don't just jam your multi-meter lead into the connector, because it's probably not the right diameter and you'll damage the connector."
Drivetrain Chair--National Training Development Coordinator for Eaton Corporation
"You see these guys go through the stations and some of them struggle a little bit, and some of them are really on top of their game. It helps me where I need to be as far as the level of training I develop: do I need to tone it down a bit, or do I need to pick up the pace? That's what I get out of it.
"We've flipped the page for this year. It's still going to be driveline related, but there's going to be some computer work, there's some hands-on, underneath the truck work. Without spilling the beans, they're going to be challenged this year.
"Last year at the Skill Station, we had all the service literature in front of the technicians, and some of them would skip through stuff, and not follow step-by-step. Your service strategy should be to start at step one and go all the way through to step ten, without skipping step three or six or eight. That's how you diagnose stuff properly.
"We preach it in our training classes: they have to follow the manuals. There's enough information in the manual to make a proper diagnosis, but there are some who still like to skip through the steps. We're baffled by it.
"Generally when you skip steps it takes you down the wrong repair path. It brings more costs in labor, it brings more cost in parts, and the truck is down longer, so it's a bad deal.
"Essential tools for this Skill Station are a strong mechanical background, and, equally important, a strong electrical background. Electronics is here to stay, and it's only getting more complicated."