When Steven Talmadge watches the winner cross the finish line at this month's Daytona 500, he'll be able to thank the Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC) for his Oldfield Tower seat. That's because Talmadge rode to the victory circle himself in the TMC's first annual SuperTech truck technician competition, held last September in Valley Forge, PA.
Touted as the first such national competition in the industry, SuperTech2005 brought together 67 talented technicians from fleets and dealerships from around the country to show what they could do with a multi-meter and a computer keyboard.
"DID I REALLY DO THIS?"
"Sometimes I think, ‘Wow, did I really do this?'" Talmadge says in reaction to his First Place finish in SuperTech2005. "And then I think, ‘Yeah, I really did, and I have the pictures to prove it.'
A technician from Premier Truck Centers, Birmingham, Ala., Talmadge has come close to winning technician competitions close to home, but taking the national championship was something he could scarcely have imagined when his service director approached him about the competition last year.
"He showed me the big spread about it in your publication and said, ‘Do you want to do this? Because I want to send you to it,'" Talmadge recalls. "I said ok. They paid my membership, I made the reservations, and the rest is history."
While planners of the competition on the TMC's Professional Technician Development Committee (PTDC) had early concerns that maintenance managers might balk at sending their best technicians away from the garage for several days, many of the 67 competitors got into the event in the same way as Talmadge did: their employers wanted them to go, for the glory and for the experience.
"We feel that there is a need to help mitigate the technician shortage, and efforts that TMC can make to raise the professionalism of truck and commercial vehicle technicians will go a long way towards helping solve that problem," says Robert Braswell, TMC's technical director. "We know how professional technicians are, but we need to get that message out to other groups."
STARTING FROM SCRATCH
Creating a national truck technician competition from the ground up was no small proposition, so the PTDC recruited a man with experience coordinating automotive technician competitions: George Arrants.
Now the vice president of industry relations, Corinthian Colleges, Santa Ana, CA (parent company of WyoTech and National Institute of Technologies), Arrants was employed by Snap-on Tools when friends in TMC contacted him about SuperTech2005.
"I guess there was a TMC PTDC meeting, and they were talking about the competition, and they had asked if they knew anybody who would be a good candidate to run the competition," Arrants says. "And Guy Warpness with WyoTech—we've known each other for a long time—he and Chuck Roberts of ASE looked at each other, and my name popped out. Guy called me and asked me if I would do it, and I said sure."
Considering the sheer scale of the task at hand, that seems a little too easy. But to Arrants, it was an easy decision to make.
"I've worked with Skills, USA—which used to be called VICA—for many years," he explains. "I worked with the state competition in Texas, and I've served on the national committee for the last five years for Automotive Technology, and also the Greater New York Auto Dealers Association has a national auto skills competition, and I've served on their ‘bug' committee for five or six years. I've been involved in multiple competitions, mainly on the automotive side, so this was no problem! As long as I had the people who were willing to work, and to put in the time, yeah. So, I volunteered."
THE SAME BUT DIFFERENT
The next year of Arrants' life was taken over by e-mails and conference calls, as he coordinated with the volunteer chairpersons of the many Skill Stations, making sure that the proper skills would be tested, enough qualified judges would be available, the proper equipment would be available in sufficient quantities, and that everything could fit in the convention hall in Valley Forge.