TMCSuperTech celebrates its 10th Anniversary

 

More than 10 years ago, the Technology & Maintenance Council’s Professional Technician Development Committee (PTDC) began with an abstract idea to elevate and honor the industry’s truck technicians. That concept evolved into the TMCSuperTech – National Technician Skills Competition.

The passing of the its 10th anniversary is a good mile post to reflect on the success born of dedication and hard work, generosity of sponsors, selflessness of the PTDC team, volunteers and their companies. Even more so, as this is a time when an uncooperative economy often underscores the values of industry leaders dedicated to the success of technicians.

TMC developed the national TMCSuperTech competition as a way to recognize truck technicians and promote the career opportunities for heavy truck technicians. The competition showcases the skill and knowledge of trucking industry technicians and increases the visibility of available career opportunities.

“Given the pace of technological change, being a heavy truck technician is truly one of the most challenging and skilled jobs in our economy,” says Carl Kirk, TMC executive director. “The knowledge base that these folks have to master is truly amazing.

“It’s entirely appropriate that TMC honors the best-of-the best of our industry.”

 

THE ORIGIN

The genesis of trucking’s National Technician Skills Competition traces back to local efforts in Arkansas aimed at recognizing technician excellence.

“The origin of TMC’s national program, I feel, goes back to Jim Robertson who worked at McKay Foods,” says Mike Jeffress, vice president of maintenance, Maverick Transportation, North Little Rock, AR, and a member of TMC. “It was his idea to have a technician competition in Arkansas in early 2000 and we rolled out our state competition in 2002.

“During my tenure as TMC General Chairman, we took his idea to the national level and with a great deal of assistance from many people, developed what we know now as PTDC and TMCSuperTech.”

By 2002, several people within TMC had begun expressing a desire to form a group to raise the profile and professionalism of truck technicians on a national level. TMC held its first Technician Training Fair in partnership with the former SAE affiliate Service Technicians Society (STS) at TMC’s 2003 Fall Meeting.

At the time, STS had a small truck group within a mostly automotive-focused organization. By 2004, STS had begun the process of being phased out within SAE, so TMC set upon the task of building upon that first preliminary training fair and launching a national technician competition.

TMC members from various study groups and committees began informal discussions on how to accomplish this goal, and by March 2004, a group of individuals successfully petitioned TMC’s board of directors to create what would become the PTDC at TMC’s 2004 Annual Meeting in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.

The core group of individuals who spearheaded the effort initially at TMC were: Mike Jeffress; Brian Strach from Hendrickson; Bill Nash of ArvinMeritor; Guy Warpness of WyoTech; Steph Sabo of Norrenberns Truck Service; Jack Sukala of J. Jeb. Mfg.; Dave Dettman of St. Louis Community College; Chuck Roberts with ASE; Mark O’Connell from Fleet Maintenance; and TMC’s Robert Braswell. Mike Walters with Marten Transport was the first PTDC Chairman.

 

A KNOWLEDGE BASE

By the summer of 2004, the new PTDC was busy exploring the best way to launch a national truck technician competition from scratch. It turned outside of trucking to the automotive sector and a man with experience coordinating automotive technician competitions – George Arrants, who at that time was employed by Snap-on Tools.

“There was a TMC PTDC meeting and they were talking about the competition, and they had asked if anyone knew anybody who would be a good candidate to run the competition,” recounts Arrants in the February 2006 edition of Fleet Maintenance. “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.”

Arrants had already worked on auto technician competitions with SkillsUSA/VICA, the Greater New York Auto Dealers Association competition and a statewide competition in Texas and others.

“I’d been involved in multiple competitions, mainly on the automotive side, so this was no problem. So long as I had the people who were willing to work and to put in the time  volunteered,” says Arrants, who has served as TMCSuperTech contest chairman since its inception.

           

CREATION OF A COMPETITION FORMAT

For the first year, the PTDC leadership agreed to a basic competition format. Workstation chairmen would decide the challenges to be tested. Work stations would have a 30-minute limit, with a maximum of 50 competitors; the competition taking eight hours. A pretest/prescreening process would limit entrants to the top 50.

A rules committee was appointed and included: Bonne Karim, U.S. Postal Service; Roger Maye, Consolidated Metco; Arrants; and Sukala. The original workstations chairs were:

- Electrical – Bruce Purkey, Purkey’s Fleet Electrics.

- Brakes/ABS – Mac Whittemore, ArvinMeritor and John Hawker, Dana.

- HVAC – Dave Dettman, STCC.

- Steering/Suspension/Tires – John Knutson, Hendrickson.

- PMI (preventive maintenance inspection) – Jimmy Mathis, Fedex Express.

- Written Test – Kurt Hornicek, ASE.

- Engines – Mike Stewart, Lincoln Tech.

- Drivetrain – Rick Muth, Eaton.

- Service Information – Arrants.

Naming the competition would fall to TMC staff, and the official name chosen – the National Technician Skills Competition – mirrored that of American Trucking Associations’ long-established National Truck Driving Championships. However, a “nickname” for the event soon stuck, suggested by Braswell.

“We were looking for a shorter, catchy name that would stick in people‘s minds,” he recalls. “We thought, this is going to be the Super Bowl for technicians so why not ‘TMCSuperTech’?”

 

INAUGURAL EVENT

The first competition, held in conjunction with TMC’s 2005 Fall Meeting, Sept. 18 to 22, in Valley Forge, PA, drew 67 contestants, many of whom were corporate, state and regional technician skills winners. Contestants with the top 50 scores from a written test were tested the following day at eight skill stations.

The first TMCSuperTech was quite a success. But this outcome was not always assured.

“After that first meeting in 2004 when the subject of the PTDC was brought up, I can’t tell you how many people came up to me and thought we were crazy,” says Strach. “Why would we want to get the technicians involved, they asked, and as always, our answer was why not?

“To think back to all the negative thoughts and how the people involved and the technicians turned this into such a positive part of TMC is something I will be proud of until the day I die. I cannot even fathom the number of hours donated by so many individuals that made everything we tried a success.”

“It doesn't seem like 10 years has gone by already, but reflecting back to Valley Forge, I barely knew anyone,” says Arrants. “For the techs, it was the same, and now, even if you are competing for the first time, you will leave with new friends and a better understanding of your capabilities.

“TMCSuperTech provides a stage for technicians who service vehicles day in and day out behind the scenes showcase their skills and interact with other techs in their organization or other companies, and that has created a network of friends. Thank you to everyone who has supported TMCSuperTech and the technicians, your investment has paid great dividends.”

 

CONTINUED DEVELOPMENT

The competition grew quickly in its first few years, thanks to the support of the PTDC Friend of the Technician Sponsors and the various skills station sponsors, goodie bag donors and other supporting companies. By 2008, TMCSuperTech had expanded to 15 skills stations and featured 121 technicians vying for 96 finalist spots. By 2013, the contest had grown to a full two-day competition format with 112 finalists competing for top honors.

“Ten years ago, we threw a small pebble into the pond when we held the first TMCSuperTech competition,” Maye says. “If the truth were known, the organizers were probably more nervous than the competitors that first day. I could not be more proud of how far reaching the ripples from that first competition have gone.

“As the years have passed, we have all become a little less nervous. We have seen the competitors’ skill levels improve each year and the work stations have had to respond to try and stay ahead of them.”

One unexpected consequence, notes Maye, has been how much he has learned through this process. “As I have watched the technicians work to complete the test, I have identified that sometimes our service literature could probably be a little more user friendly.”

He has also been amazed at the resourcefulness and skill of the technicians. “They have managed to break things and attempt to complete our station requirements in ways that I would have never imagined.”

 

PRIZE PACKAGES

One of the special features of TMCSuperTech has always been its attractive prize packages, which have included trips to the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400, as well as thousands of dollars’ worth of tools, tool boxes and other valuable items, all made possible thanks to scores of donors and sponsors.

“Recognition of truck technicians has been long neglected,” PTDC judges chairman Tom Tahaney says. “Their contribution to the industry and their employer's profitability was never recognized before TMCSuperTech. It has shown that our techs are not ‘grease monkeys’ but are professional technicians in the true sense of the word. They are working on equipment that is more sophisticated than the first lunar lander.”

Ten years have come and gone, but the enthusiasm for TMCSuperTech remains strong. Plans are in the works to further enhance the competition with team categories and a student competition for this year’s competition.

As TMCSuperTech enters its second decade, efforts are underway to build the state level of competitions out to include all 50 states, as well as the Canadian provinces and Mexico.

“It's amazing how far we have come and how many people TMCSuperTech has reached since we started with 56 technicians and five state competitions in Valley Forge,” says Karim, who chaired the PTDC from 2010 to 2014. “This year, 21 states and a number of companies will hold preliminary competitions to select champions and teams to represent them at TMCSuperTech2014.

“On the other end of the spectrum, there are always a few competitors who come on their own without company support to test their skills and learn new things. TMCSuperTech has been instrumental in improving technicians' knowledge and job performance and creating management awareness and appreciation of the critical role technicians play in their company's overall operational success.”

“It has been a quick 10 years,” says Maye. “I think we have all become better friends and learned some valuable lessons about our products and our industry in general. I am excited to see what the next 10 years will bring for all of us.”

Robert Braswell is the technical director of the Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC), North America’s premier technical society for truck equipment technology and maintenance professionals. He also serves as the community manager for TMC Connect, the organization’s new social networking and collaborative work platform.

 

 

 

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