Rush Enterprises CEO Cites Technician Retention as Key Challenge

Training Always Evolves, Rusty Rush Says
Rush Enterprises CEO Rusty Rush
Rush Enterprises CEO Rusty Rush on stage at the Tech Skills Rodeo in San Antonio

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SAN ANTONIO — Rush Enterprises Inc. CEO W.M. “Rusty” Rush called retention the biggest obstacle that the trucking technician sector faces.

Rush spoke with a small group of reporters Dec. 13 during the 2022 Tech Skills Rodeo. He discussed a range of topics important to the technician and truck sales spaces including training, technology and expectations for next year. But it was retention that was highlighted as the biggest challenge.

“As far as retention, it is the biggest obstacle that we face,” Rush told Transport Topics. “You’re doing everything you can to recognize them, and there are many other ways and things we’re doing just inside the everyday business from a training perspective, but also doing everything you can from a retention perspective.”

The Tech Skills Rodeo is the biggest way in which technicians are recognized for their work and skills. The competition allows technicians throughout the company to compete for cash, prizes and accolades. The competition in recent years added a category for new technicians who have shown great promise in their first two years. Rush noted retention issues are most pronounced among the newer hires.

Rush Enterprises Tech Skills Rodeo sign

Rush Enterprises' Tech Skills Rodeo returned as an in-person event after two years as a virtual competition because of the pandemic. (Connor D. Wolf/Transport Topics)

“I do know that we have a lot of long-term technicians,” Rush said. “Those more seasoned guys, yes, they thoroughly gravitate forward, because they’re the best. They’re the most experienced. They got the best skill set. So they love to return. I would answer yes to that. It’s those early guys that are so, it’s so difficult.”

Rush Enterprises has seen about 40% of the technicians it loses go to different industries, meaning a significant amount of turnover isn’t going to direct competitors but leaving the industry outright. The company, though, is developing ways to fix that such as piloting a couple of dedicated training programs because training has been shown to help with retention.

Everybody thinks you get trained up as a technician and it’s over with. It’s not.

Rush Enterprises CEO W.M. "Rusty" Rush

“Training is something that always evolves,” Rush said. “Especially this decade we’re getting into, when you think about it, with the technology and all, it’s a constant thing. Everybody thinks you get trained up as a technician and it’s over with. It’s not.

RELATED: Paul Crawford is this year's Tech Skills Rodeo grand champion

“Just think back 25 years ago, they didn’t have all these [engine control modules] and everything. It was all different. So these guys are constantly training throughout their careers to maintain their levels.”

Rush noted that companies can either look at training as an expense or as an investment. He believes training is an investment but one that is always evolving. Because of that, training isn’t spent just on developing new technicians but also to keep seasoned veterans ahead of the curve.

The Federal Reserve has increased interest rates several times this past year as part of an effort to control rising inflation. Rush believes as that approach continues it will impact equipment and parts sales next year. But he noted that effect won’t be felt right away.

“The Fed is going to get its way eventually,” Rush said. “That initial effect is not there day one, but it starts to become there for our customers, for consumers, for everyone. People that borrow money, it’s going to cost more interest money, which means it takes away from consumption.



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“So does inflation. So they’re trying to slow all that down. I’m not here to be an economist and predict, but I think next year will be down some.”

Rush believes much of this slowdown will be occurring in the later half of the year. Rush Enterprises had a shortfall of truck sales this year because of supply constraints ranging from 80,000 to 100,000. But the company has started to catch up on that in the last couple of months. He expects that to continue into next year.

“Now we’re catching up right now,” Rush said. “You can look at delivery numbers for the last couple months, what it’s going to be for the last couple months of this year. It’s going to be way up from where it was right at the start the year.”

He pointed to spot rates and used truck values being down while borrowing rates have increased. Rush also expects contract rates to go down. He noted those are all negative data points, but he doesn’t expect anything catastrophic, either. Truck sales are expected to be down some once the backlog is caught up on.

“It’s going to slow down a little bit,” Rush said. “You’ve still got some varying predictions about what retail sales will be next year. But I don’t expect them to be the strongest this year, but be more front-loaded and a little bit softer on the back side. Our parts and service business is still holding up fairly well.”

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