December 21, 2015 1:30 AM, EST

Graham Wins Honors at Rush Tech Rodeo

Rush Enterprises
This story appears in the Dec. 21 &amp 28 print edition of Transport Topics.

SAN ANTONIO — A total of 163 truck technicians came here to compete at the Rush Truck Centers “Tech Skills Rodeo” in categories including engines, parts and body repair.

Some went home with wallets bulging with cash, and others returned to their Rush service centers with prizes ranging from tools to gift cards.

Everyone went home a winner in one way or another, said Mike Besson, Rush’s managing vice president of service operations.

The top winner was Travis Graham, a 24-year-old technician who works at Rush’s Orlando, Florida, truck center. Graham was named all-around champion and grand champion of the heavy-duty division at an awards banquet Dec. 15.

Graham took home a giant trophy and $21,900 in cash and prizes.

“I’ve been working on cars or trucks full time since I was 16,” Graham told Transport Topics after the ceremony. “Luckily, the tests were the same stuff we see out in the field, so they weren’t too challenging.”

Rush Enterprises Chairman and CEO W.M. “Rusty” Rush, who doled out the awards at the banquet, said the event was a company highlight of the year. Rush called the technicians the “heartbeat of our service centers.”

“Guys that come here don’t ever leave the same,” Besson told TT. “When they go back they go, ‘Man, you wouldn’t believe what we did.’ ”

Besson said the internal company competition has become both a recruitment and retention tool for Rush, the nation’s largest publicly traded chain with 120 dealerships. The company employs more than 2,400 techs but could immediately hire 300 more were it not for a shortage of mechanics, Besson said.

The shortage of techs has not only sent Rush recruiters to high schools and tech schools, it has caused the company to step up its retention efforts.

“As engines have become more complex, techs are even harder to find. It’s a different skill set. It’s not a grease monkey mentality,” Besson said. “You have to do something that makes you different. The reality is, if you don’t do anything different, why wrench for Rush?”

As part of its effort to persuade techs to join Rush — and keep the ones already working at Rush dealers — the company air-conditions its shops in hot climates and heats the floors in cold locations.

To involve younger techs in the competition, the rodeo this year sent 12 less experienced techs to compete in a special “Rising Stars” category.

James Chapman, a competitor in this year’s rodeo and lead tech at the company’s Akron, Ohio, dealership, said finding experienced and qualified techs easily can take up to six months. “And we do two or three interviews a week,” Chapman added.

Chris Faircloth, fixed operations manager at the company’s Dallas truck center, said he even reaches out to high schools to find potential techs.

“We’re really getting them young,” Faircloth said. “Most importantly, we’re looking for young people with a mechanical aptitude. Good techs have a job.”

“If you don’t know how to use a computer, you can’t do anything anymore,” said Chris Jordan, a 21-year-old tech who made it to the competition after working only two years at a Rush service center in Effingham, Illinois. “There’s definitely a shortage of techs with passion, and good people who want to work.”