Doug Skelly of First Vehicle Services has been a technician for nearly 30 years, but had not heard about TMCSuperTech until last year. He didn't have much time to prepare, but that didn't stop him from winning the Safety & Environmental Skill Station. He said the competition was tiring but rewarding.
"I learned a lot," he says. "It was more a mental drain than it was a physical drain. Your brain was just drained after the two days."
Skelly says perhaps the best part of the competition was getting to meet technicians from across the country and "comparing notes" on their work.
"I learned a lot about other vehicles, which was really helpful," he says. "The more you can do throughout the day and learning throughout the days will get you one step closer."
It's not just the technicians who benefit from the information learned and connections made at TMCSuperTech. For companies that send technicians, there is a wealth of information and knowledge to be returned and spread around the shop.
"They're training their techs and bringing them up to a level that really benefits everyone," says WyoTech diesel instructor Chad Parsons.
Ryder Systems Inc. Neenah, WI service manager Kenneth Hurst says having a TMCSuperTech standout on staff like third-place finisher Michael Bogard provides many advantages.
"It's a credit to our place," he says. "People call and say, 'So this is the place with the top tech?' It carries over to the shop. A lot of guys here aspire to succeed and be more like Mike. He's someone they can go to for help if they're stumped."
Wal-Mart Transportation regional maintenance manager Dan Willard says the competition is a "major win" for all involved.
"The benefit is the teamwork, the networking, the knowledge and skill these guys gain just by going through the competition itself, from being with that level of people and having that experience," he says.
Dale Domish, senior vice-president of First Vehicle Services says the company has seen plenty of positives in the two years they have sent technicians to TMCSuperTech.
"It brings a level of enthusiasm back to the shop when they return, and it definitely encourages everybody," he says. "It broadens your horizons, and is a learning experience."
Swift's Harris says any fleet professionals who have yet to send technicians to the event should do so in '09, and reap the benefits.
"It is really good for the technicians to spend time with other technicians across the industry as well as take part in some of the meetings that discuss the future of our industry," he says. "If your technician puts forth the effort that it takes to do well at these events, his or her knowledge will be drastically increased. If technician knowledge is increased, repair time goes down and productivity goes up."
The competition is catching on among fleets, Long says.
"Everybody's starting to say, 'I want to get involved in this--there is a benefit to my technicians and my company in order to get my people where they need to be,'" he says. "The competition is not just a competition, it's a learning process. It gives a chance for (technicians) to talk to other technicians who have more expertise, so they're bringing added value back to the workplace. It's that confidence that it builds within the individual that says, 'Hey, I can work good under pressure.' That's what you want on the shop floor as well when you have a technician who comes in and you've got three trucks at the door and one honking his horn."
Wheel End Skills Station chairman Roger Maye of Consolidated Metco says some fleets start preparation for TMCSuperTech as early as February--not a bad idea, as the level of competition continues to rise.
"They are sending us a better competitor by far than we started out with--these guys are getting really sharp, and you can see a difference in the grades," he says. "So much is changing so fast in the industry, the skills that you had last week are probably not going to get you through next week. Some of the preparation they're doing up front is one of the reason we're seeing such difference in the level of the competitor."
Since technicians are going to return to their shops with whatever they've learned at the competition, Maye says it is important to provide the most realistic challenges possible.