A different kind of Texas rodeo

I had the opportunity to attend Rush Truck Centers’ 5th Annual Rush Truck Centers Tech Skills Rodeo, held recently down the street from the Alamo in San Antonio, TX.   The Tech Skills Rodeo event is an intense competition wherein Rush Truck Centers technicians test their skill level against one another.   Headquartered in New Braunfels, Rush Truck Centers is North America’s largest network of heavy and medium duty truck dealerships. It handles Ford, Hino, International, Isuzu, Peterbilt, UD and Workhorse brands through its dealerships in 59 truck centers in Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, North Carolina, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.   The Skills Rodeo also exposes technicians to the latest updates from the company’s suppliers.   This year’s event is the biggest, Ron Newton, Rush Truck Center’s vice president of organizational development told me, and included many different makes of trucks for hands-on testing, plus had more participating suppliers.   In addition, they were a number of exhibits, including the Paccar MX Engine, Mobile One and Beyer Racing touring rigs, and propane-powered buses.   To qualify for the Tech Skills Rodeo, Rush Truck Center technicians must complete required training throughout the year and then take written examinations in November.   This year, the competition had five divisions: Caterpillar, Cummins and Eaton (Heavy Duty); Medium Duty and, newly added, Refuse.   Of the company’s 800 technicians, 350 took more than 700 exams. From this, the top technicians with the highest scores in the divisions qualified to go to San Antonio for the hands-on portion of the Skills Rodeo. Any technician that qualified in more than one division had to pick the one he wanted to compete in.   The qualifying technicians then compete for the 15 finalist spots, from which the top techs are determined. They will receive valuable prizes, cash - up to $10,000 per individual - and a bump up in their hourly pay from $1.00 to $1.50.   One of the things that makes the Rush Truck Centers Tech Skills Rodeo unique is that it involves more than just diagnostics, said Mike Besson, vice president, service operations, Rush Truck Centers. It is diagnostics plus repair and up-selling, and all within 45 minutes.   Besson came up with the idea for the Tech Skills Rodeo about seven years after being at a competition where teams of kids had 30 minutes to try and get farm tractors to start.   The hands-on testing is set up to be real world, he told me - except for those red-shirted judges with their clipboards and pens following the competitor’s every move, that is.   When the testing begins, the technician is given a work order with the customer’s complaint. He must then diagnose the problem, make the repair and try and up-sell additional repair and maintenance and then write up on the nearby laptop computer what he did and why.   “The judges are not looking for the fastest times,” explained Besson. “Rather, they’re grading competitors on how well they follow the repair path.   “It’s not enough to just fix the problem,” he said “The tech might have gotten lucky. We want to make sure they follow the troubleshooting trees.”   Another element of the Rush Truck Centers Tech Skills Rodeo is the mandatory training classes that are put on by suppliers in conjunction with the event.   It is very important to keep the technicians’ skill levels high, Newton said.   Added Besson: Along with promoting training, the event helps with technicians retention and loyalty - things that have become more important of late.   These goals were furthered by W. M. “Rusty” Rush, president and CEO of Rush Enterprises, of which Rush Truck Centers is a subsidiary.   In his remarks at the awards ceremony, Rush emphasized to the technicians just how important they are to the continuing growth and success the dealerships.   “Thank you for being a part of our family,” said Rush. “We don’t have a chance to say thank you often enough. The heartbeat of our dealerships is all that you technicians do. You take care of the customer and support the dealership.   “We’re the best because of people like you.”   You could almost see the technicians’ chest swell with pride.   It is also interesting to note that this year’s Rush Truck Centers Tech Skills Rodeo was the first time the company paid to bring along the technicians’ spouses.   What a nice things to do, and another way to motivate technician performance. After all, if a technician has to work late, his spouse may be more understanding knowing that the extra effort may get them a free trip, plus prizes, cash and recognition among their peers.   Also new this year, and another motivational tool, is the large trophy for display in their dealership that each Grand Champion received. The trophy is inscribed with their names, along with the names of the previous Grand Champions.   Each year, the new Rush Truck Centers Tech Skills Rodeo Grand Champions will have their name added and will display the trophy at their dealership.