Ready for Prime Time

What does it takes to make a champion technician?


“Pretty much like a typical day in the shop,” he adds.

“There’s so much you learn throughout the competition,” adds Anthony, his teammate. “It amazes me—I didn’t think there was that much to know about the things I’m working on. And you can take all that back and share it with the guys you work with. A lot of guys come to me when they have problems, and I’m sure Ed has the same scenario.”

Glaessmann appreciates the team aspect of the competition, explaining that “Everybody approaches a job a little differently. So it’s good to talk amongst ourselves and see how we would both approach it, and put our ideas together to form one route to go.”

PM SMARTS

Across the Charlotte shop, five more Penske technicians compete in the hands-on PM test, searching out and fixing 26 bugs that range from over-filled fluids to loose bolts, from burnt-out lightbulbs to a fast food bag left behind a seat.

Unlike the Diagnotics & Troubleshooting test, in which technicians operate in pairs, the PM competition is a solo affair. This year’s winner, Chad Ray of Weyers Cave, VA, was a third-time entrant. After failing to advance beyond the regional level for the past two years, Ray rose to the top in 2007.

“It feels great to finally do it and to get to this level,” Ray says. “I’m very detail-oriented, and I owe my success to hard work and practice.”

“Preventive maintenance is the core of our business,” says Douglas, “so he has his PM sheet and we have put certain defects in that vehicle that we hope he’s going to find as he’s doing the hands-on. And again, he’s done the written assessment prior to coming here today. So we’re going to look at the written test of things that they should know pertaining to what they’ll be doing in the hands-on.”

OPEN BOOK TEST

Although the questions on the written tests and the bugs in the trucks in the hands-on test are kept secret until the start of the competition, the answers are always in plain sight.

Because Penske technicians are expected to be able to locate and use the service information that is available to them in the shop, the competitors are evaluated on how well they use those information resources.

“They can take their time, they can go look up their answers if they want to,” O’Leary says. “Really, one of the tools you want them to walk away from the Tech Challenge with is the ability to use all the things that we have available to us: the power of the Internet, all the diagnostic troubleshooting trees that we have out there posted in our shops, diagnostic computers—it’s pretty powerful stuff, you don’t have to remember anything anymore. It’ll take you right to the answer if you just know how to get there.”

As O’Leary explains, this approach is the only way for the company to handle the complexity of its maintenance challenges. Penske prides itself on getting any piece of equipment that its customers need, and so they have virtually every make and model of truck and trailer imaginable in their fleet.

“We’ve got anything that anyone ever wants,” he says, “so, these guys have to be up-to-date on all that stuff.”

THE RIGHT STUFF

One of the most unique aspects of the Penske National Technical Challenge is the way the technicians are teamed up for the Diagnostics & Troubleshooting portion of the competition. According to Penske’s senior vice president of field maintenance, Ken McKibben, the team approach allows more technicians to compete and win.

It also brings together technicians with strong hands-on skills with those with strong analytical skills, he explains. “So you get the guys that really know how to use the computer, and he’ll go in there and say ‘Here’s what it says—what do you think?’ Now, because they’re a team, the other guy will physically check it out.”

Back in the “real world,” those technicians will be more likely to seek out the help of others when they get stuck on a maintenance problem, McKibben says. Once again, the practical benefits of the competition contribute directly to more cost-effective operations for the fleet.

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