How do you get 40 percent or more of your technicians to sign up for a training program? Make the training program a national technician competition, offer company-wide recognition, cash awards and travel, and the chance to solve one of the company’s most urgent maintenance issues, then stand back and watch the applications roll in.
That’s been the experience of Penske Truck Leasing with their National Technical Challenge. The 2007 event, held this past June in Charlotte, NC, brought in 15 Penske technicians (three winners from each of five regional championships) to compete in two competitions: PM and Vehicle Diagnostics & Troubleshooting.
To make it to the national championships, those 15 competitors (out of a record-breaking field of 1,785 entrants) had to make it through both written and hands-on tests at the branch, district, area and regional levels. “Even the guys who weren’t here today all still had to put quite a bit of effort in on their own learning it as they went through each level of the competition,” says Bob Douglas, vice president of field maintenance for Penske’s Northeast Region. “We had over 40 percent of our population of technicians enroll and sign up, so they competed at some level. That means that all of them put an extra effort in to training to try to get to that level.”
“When we started this back in ’95, it started as just an area competition,” says Bill O’Leary, Penske’s vice president of maintenance for the Southeast Region. “Then it gained momentum over the years just by people talking about it.
“It’s huge,” O’Leary continues. “It takes us four months of the year to get it done. Every technician and every CSR (customer service rep) is eligible to compete. CSRs typically are the guys doing the preventive maintenance, the PM competition. Then we have Tech 3s, 2s and 1s that will participate in the diagnostics and repair.”
“We’d like to see 100 percent involvement,” Douglas says. “Each year we see an uptick in the enrollment. But some people just don’t like tests. We may have some people who are very efficient at doing this, but don’t like to get into a competition for whatever reason.”
But for the technicians who aren’t afraid of a little competition, the Tech Championship is an unparalleled opportunity for professional and personal development.
“The best thing about this for the technicians is it gives them a little friendly competition, gives them some incentive, gives them some recognition, shows them how important they are, as an integral part of what we do for our customers,” says Douglas. “From the corporation’s standpoint, it helps reinforce training—it puts a different twist on how you deliver training.”
Douglas knows what he’s talking about: The two technicians who won the Vehicle Diagnostics & Troubleshooting competition in 2006—Rob Anthony from Allentown-Hoover, PA, and Ed Glaessmann, Jr. from Easton, PA—have actually taken a week’s vacation to prepare for this year’s event.
“The two of them worked together, studying and going through all of the things that we were going to cover on this competition,” Douglas says with pride. “They took vacation time to work together last November, knowing that we were going to start the competition in the spring.”
Not coincidentally, Anthony and Glaessmann won the Vehicle Diagnostics & Troubleshooting competition again this year.
That extra effort is the key to the event’s success. All across the country, in every Penske maintenance shop, technicians look ahead to the theme of this year’s competition, and they start to study... This year, dozens of technicians and like Anthony and Glaessmann put in hours of their own time studying up on air conditioning diagnosis and troubleshooting, because they knew several months ahead of time that this year’s test would be about A/C.