Growing the business

Growing the business

Mountain International’s Morris says apprentice technician program pairs mentors with new technicians to develop talent

Grant Morris wants to share as much information as possible with technicians to try to empower them and give them a sense of ownership in Charleston, W. Va.-based Mountain International Trucks Inc.

 “We are big on information sharing,” says Morris, chief operating officer of the company. “This is not just a place to come to work. We want technicians to have an ownership mentality and to think that if they can increase their productivity, it not only helps them and their families, but it helps our business grow, which gives us all a stronger future.”

As an example of this mentality, he cited John Vance, who was one of the top finishers in the 2006 Technician of the Year award competition. It was sponsored by SKF, Haldex, Dayton Parts LLC and Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems to recognize fleet technicians who exemplify the best qualities of the profession, including technical and mechanical expertise and contributions to the industry.

“John has mastered how to make himself and the company better,” Morris said. “He is the new breed of technician – extremely bright, great on the computer, good management and communication skills, and a tremendous ability to diagnose problems.”

Vance is in charge of the company’s apprentice technician program and is the chief mentor at the company’s Charleston location, the company’s largest of seven facilities in West Virginia and Kentucky. As chief mentor, Vance works with newer technicians and inventories their skills, abilities and attitudes.

“We want him to work with the young technicians, to be a role model, and hopefully they will think and perform like John,” Morris says. “He is a rare leader who can inspire and motivate people to reach above their potential.”

The company, which has 180 employees including 69 technicians, has chief mentors at all seven locations because it tends to hire young technicians who are impressionable and need positive role models.

“Lately we’ve been hiring younger individuals for technicians and trying to grow them in house,” Morris says. “The mentoring also allows us to recognize quality technicians who have an interest in training young workers. The mentors are compensated for this because it takes them away from their work as technicians. You have to pick the right people though, because the best technician is not always the best manager.”

The company’s commitment to recruiting and hiring technicians is demonstrated by its full-time employment of a chief recruiter, who goes to technical schools east of the Mississippi River to recruit them.

“He was a training school director and has lots of contacts,” Morris says. “He also keeps track of technician training and helps plan their career paths.”

Newly hired technicians can set up a one-, three,- or five-year training plan based on if they want to become a generalist, or engine or transmission specialist, Morris says. The company also uses newspaper ads and relies heavily on employee recommendations to hire new technicians.

“It’s difficult to hire new technicians,” Morris says. “We commit lots of resources to it. Unfortunately, we are still fighting some mistaken perceptions about the job. People don’t realize that the position involves more technology, diagnostics and electronics than turning wrenches.”

The company has achieved success with its in-house recruiting program.

“It gives us 180 recruiters (employees) who can earn money if one of the people they recommend is hired,” he says.

With all the resources the company devotes to hiring, keeping technicians employed is just as important.

“Technicians can earn hourly raises based on the training they complete,” Morris says. “Suppliers like Cat and Cummins offer additional training, and technicians will get additional raises if they complete it successfully. If they earn a CDL they can get another raise. There is the opportunity to earn $6 to $8 more per hour by completing training, and merit raises are available on top of that.”

Semi weekly technician meetings are designed to flow information up and down the chain of command.

“We want to share our short- and long-term goals and efficiency ratings with technicians because they are instrumental in our success,” Morris says. “We also encourage their feedback to see if there are any issues that need to be addressed.”

Since not everyone is comfortable asking questions in a public forum, anonymous surveys of employees are conducted periodically.

“If we learn that half the work force feels a certain way about something, then that’s an issue we have to address,” he says.

Company meals are held monthly. Small team building meetings, picnics or outings to minor league baseball games are designed to boost morale. A monthly internal champions cup based on safety, productivity and profit is held to promote friendly competition between each location.

“We encourage them to be safe and grow the business,” he says.

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