You could hardly miss the contingent from Con-way Freight at the 2006 SuperTech event. Not only did the LTL shipper have eight technicians competing in the event, they had an additional group of family members and corporate officers in attendance, all wearing Con-way shirts and cheering on their team.
We recently talked with Con-way Freight’s director of maintenance, Mike Grima, about his company’s experience at SuperTech.
Fleet Maintenance: Can you give me some background on Con-way?
Mike Grima: We are an LTL fleet for hire. There are three units under one big umbrella: Central in Ann Arbor covers the central states, Southern in Dallas covers the south and southeast, and Western in California covers the western states. Central has over 400 technicians, Southern has 158 and Western has 111.
FM: Was Con-way involved in the first SuperTech competition in 2005?
MG: No, last year was our first year. We are members of the ATA and TMC, and so we got their communications. We wanted to get our mechanics some recognition; we wanted to give them the chance to compete on a larger scale than they can internally. We thought SuperTech would not only be a good opportunity for that, but that it would also build their confidence and self-esteem.
FM: Do you have your own in-house corporate technician competition?
MG: We do. We began the competition here at Con-way Central, and began dovetailing it with our annual drivers’ competition. We have them compete that same weekend, once a year. The three different business units do their competitions separately, but for Central we do ours the first weekend in August.
FM: Do all your SuperTech competitors come from Central?
MG: We divvy it up; this year we’ll have two entrants from each business unit entered in SuperTech. They’ll be selected through each of the business units’ own competitions.
FM: How many technicians enter the competitions?
MG: We have quite a few people test for it. We offer a written test as a pre-qualifier. You have to have a year of safe working; no accidents or injuries. Then we give them a written test, and the highest scoring person out of each maintenance region qualifies. Then we take the next highest scorers out of any region, in any order, up to a limit of 14 people. We have nine maintenance regions, and we have 14 operations regions.
FM: Who prepares the written test?
MG: It’s a combination of our field personnel and myself and the other components. We all contribute to that test and make is as broad as possible, so as to not favor any one business unit. And we rotate: we actually have three tests, that contain for all intents and purposes the same information, and we rotate the tests within the organization, so that the guys in the first group that perhaps compete in the spring have the same chance as the guys who compete in August, and word doesn’t get out as to what was on that test.
FM: How tough do you make the questions?
MG: The questions deal with things that the technician might encounter on any given day, and then I take the test results and score them, and see how we did as a group—what were we good at, what were we bad at. Then we can concentrate our development; we use that as a tool to develop and strengthen our shops, because it’s a reflection of ho well-trained our people are. So, if you have any one particular category that they don’t score well in as a group, then we know we have to concentrate our efforts in that area to improve it.
FM: What do you test the technicians on?
MG: We test them on daily functions, what they’re expected to do in the shop. For example, what are the torque sequences on a wheel? What’s the proper torque setting on an axle? What are the proper tire pressures? What are the proper pull points? We try to mimic what the ASE does; we’ll have engine or electrical or air conditioning questions. Our expectation of our journeyman mechanics is that they can repair whatever rolls in the door. We don’t have them classified by engine, brakes, transmissions—whatever you draw today, that’s your job for today.