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Beyond a rewards program: Tech Skills Rodeo works on many levels

SAN ANTONIO. In terms of an employee rewards and recruitment/ retention tool, it's hard to ask for much better than the Rush Truck Centers Tech Skills Rodeo. It's not "technician" in that title for a reason—that was once the only focus, but the "tech" in the name is meant to refer to technical skills since Rush has been expanding the event to more and more employees who interface with customers.

That includes an all-new truck sales segment this year at the event, where some 110 company salespeople filmed their pitches as part of testing and 21 were selected for the semi-finals and did sales walkarounds of trucks to compete. But of course, technicians, technicians, technicians—from heavy- and medium-duty truck service to parts and collision—are still the major part of this.

In an industry like trucking where turnover for various employees such as technicians can be huge and very costly to a business, Rush Truck Centers is well ahead of the curve with this evolved, mature event. And there's a notable symbiosis going on here in various ways.

The competition is not so much for bragging rights of "who's best" as it is about recognition and some additional, real earnings potential. It's a kind of rewards program, yes, but it also identifies the business' best employees, noted Jason Swann, a four-time event champion prior to this year (and he's a winner once again).

You might say Swann, a heavy-duty technician at Rush Truck Center Dallas, is a superstar of this event—he's tried out for and made it to all 13 of the Rush Tech Skills Rodeos. "It gets your name out there. Some of these people I don't know, but they know who I am," he told Fleet Owner.

"And if you have aspirations in the company, it does have potential for whatever your next step is, if you want to be a foreman, a manager, or something else," he added. "You've kind of mastered your craft if you've gotten here and you've beaten the 'top of the top' across the country—that means a lot. They find out who their best guys are."  

One example of that career path advancement—another point that can be lacking when it comes to the truck technician job—is prior Rodeo multi-champion Dustin Ebert. You may still be able to find him at this event, but he no longer competes with the technicians now that he's national fleet support manager at Rush Enterprises.

Jesse Walker of Rush Truck Center Mobile, AL

Being a truck technician in itself can be a great career, contended Jesse Walker, a Rising Star competitor this year. That segment gives newer technicians a chance to compete and win prizes and cash, and it took Walker just shy of two years to make it to the Tech Skills Rodeo. Coming from from Rush Truck Center Mobile, AL, ironically, he's looking to get into mobile service technician work.

"There's still a big, big learning curve" since joining Rush to make it to this event, he noted. But technicians can get ahead the better the job they do—for instance, a particular task has an assigned number of hours it pays, so if the technician can get it done faster, he or she will get paid that amount and can increase earnings potential.

"If you like crossword or jigsaw puzzles, that's what working on trucks is," Walker said. "It's a blast to work on these things. Rush takes care of its employees really well, especially the techs. There's so much earnings potential."

At the same time, of course, the better these technicians and other competitors here do their jobs, it's not only good for them—it's also better for Rush Truck Centers and its customers. It builds relationships between Rush truck technicians from across the country and the company's leadership when they come to compete here in Rush's corporate headquarters city.

"It's just as important to work with upper management as it is to work with your suppliers, who you may not get to see them very often," Swann contended. So the Tech Skills Rodeo helps build person-person relationships with the company's leaders.

Not only that, the competition offers Rush Truck Centers technicians and other employees the chance to interface with suppliers. The event this time around had a record number of about 80-90 trade show booths, which help technicians learn about new products and meet the people at these truck technology, parts, and equipment makers.

AJ White, service manager at Rush Truck Center San Antonio, told of meeting he had with a Cummins representative at an event dinner this year. "He said, 'We've emailed and talked on the phone a thousand times,'" he noted. "But it's always good to put a face to a name. The next time we talk, I guarantee you it makes that conversation even better." 

"The guys you work with on the phone, this is the time we get to actually set down and get to know each other," Swann pointed out, "which is a big part of doing business. A lot of our business [as technicians] is customer relations, but we also have to have relationships with all of our manufacturers so they know who they're talking to."

The timing of the Tech Skills Rodeo is also well-placed just before the holidays, and that's no accident. It can be a good thing for the individuals who win, but even better for those with families. 

"It's great if you have kids," noted Swann. And giving a boost to families and career workers with the event is one more way Rush Truck Centers fosters that long-term employee relationship and higher retention all truck dealerships and fleet maintenance shops are seeking.


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