John Smucker touts technicians
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John Smucker touts technicians

Every employee in a fleet maintenance shop is important, and they need to be reminded of that fact periodically, according to John Smucker, director of fleet maintenance for Wooster Motor Ways Inc., a truckload carrier based in Wooster , Ohio.

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Name: John Smucker

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Company: Wooster Motor Ways

Title: Director of Fleet Maintenance

Other Positions Held: Shop foreman, truck mechanic, trailer shop supervisor, trailer mechanic

Industry Experience: 23 years

Professional Activities: Serves on the advisory committee of the Wayne County vocational schools

Every employee in a fleet maintenance shop is important, and they need to be reminded of that fact periodically, according to John Smucker, director of fleet maintenance for Wooster Motor Ways Inc., a truckload carrier based in Wooster , Ohio.

“Even the guy washing the trucks is important because lots of people will see the result of his work, and what he does matters,” says Smucker. And, he should know because Smucker started at the company 23 years ago washing trucks, has held a variety of other jobs at the company and worked his way up to his current position. That’s not an easy thing to do at a small company with few management positions.

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Staff challenges

Keeping good technicians in a facility that’s open 24 hours a day, six days a week is the most challenging part of his job, he says.

“You can throw money at them, but if they are not happy with the hours, it’s going to be tough to keep good technicians working nights,” Smucker says. “It makes home life tough, kind of like driving a truck.”

He’s also concerned about students opting for other career paths.

“A lot of younger guys don’t want to get their hands dirty when they work,” he says. “This is not a desk job. It is specialized work, and I want well-rounded guys who can work on everything. With all of the advanced technology used today, you often find guys who are specialized with computer problems or PeopleNet units.”

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Smucker tries to address this problem at the core by volunteering to work on the advisory committee of the Wayne County vocational schools.

“We hire about 30 percent of our technicians from vocational schools,” he says. “We’ll also supply the school with trucks to work on, if the truck is down with a problem and we can afford to have it out of our fleet for a while. They appreciate getting our trucks because they have the newest technology in the schools but tend to have to work on older equipment.”

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With the challenge of getting good technicians, it’s important to keep those that you have challenged and current, Smucker says.

“We have three technician levels – A, B and C – that they can advance through,” he says. “They get paid according to the level they are at. We like to give guys opportunities to advance their experience when they are ready for it.”

Similarly, any of the technicians can take advantage of training programs offered through a variety of vendors, including Caterpillar, Cummins and Detroit Diesel, as long as they are deemed ready.

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“We want to put qualified people in classes they need to be in to go to the next level,” Smucker says. “If somebody expresses an interest in certain training, we will try to comply. We’ll send technicians out for regional training, or vendors will offer it here at the shop. It’s hard to shut down the whole shop — even for a couple of hours — because we run multiple shifts.”

An open-door policy and informal communications procedures are designed to promote an open and honest exchange of ideas and concerns, Smucker says.

“We have suggestion boards, and technicians are more than welcome to come to my office any time,” he says. “I’ll offer to bring ideas forward to see if there are better ways to address issues.”

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Supplier relations

Service and price determine what suppliers the company will use.

“Our philosophy is not to go to bed with any one supplier,” Smucker says. “We want somebody who can deliver the part, because sales aren’t any good if they have nothing in stock.”

For example, the company doesn’t buy brake shoes from the lowest-priced supplier.

“We’ll go with the product that performs the best, and if we go to them with a problem, they will take care of it.” He tries to avoid getting parts from captive suppliers because price shopping is not an option with them.

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“We try to spread our parts business around to different suppliers,” he says. “We work with about five vendors on a day-to-day basis. You have to feed them all to keep a level playing field. Some vendors may get two pieces of the pie, but nobody gets it all.”

Green practices

The company tries to keep its waste stream at a minimum to keep disposal costs low and benefit the environment.

“We recycle our waste oil to heat the shop and also recycle steel and aluminum,” Smucker says. “We send our tires to be ground up, and plywood from trailers goes home with employees for kindling or multiple other uses. Guys with woodburning stoves love to get hardwood from the trailer floors. Our technicians are thrifty, and they find creative uses for lots of things that don’t have to get thrown out.”

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The company has one garbage dumpster for the shop and office that gets emptied twice a week, he says.

Wooster Motor Ways has about 250 tractors and 700 trailers. It has two Ohio terminals — in Cincinnati and Hebron — that are not maintenance facilities.

“We try to do as much maintenance as possible in Wooster and tend to contract out some of the preventive maintenance at the sublet shops,” he says.

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