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Richard Waitz got his first taste of equipment repair tinkering with tractors and four-wheelers at his grandfather’s ranch in Cotula, Texas. And after blowing the engine in his first pickup truck, he learned some automotive skills the old fashioned way. But Waitz took a shine to diesel equipment when he attended Texas State Technical College in Waco where he took every diesel course they had, winding up with four associates degrees in diesel technology.
Today Waitz works as a shop supervisor at CCC Group, a large construction and infrastructure company headquartered in San Antonio, Texas. He was named one of 15 Technician of the Year Finalists at the Association of Equipment Management Professionals* annual conference in March.
Waitz started at CCC Group in 2007, working as a mechanic on backhoes, loaders, and other equipment and then progressed to cranes. He moved up to shop foreman which divided his time between wrenching and helping other mechanics find solutions to problems. And most recently he was promoted to shop supervisor.
Given the variety of equipment he and his shop work on, it’s not surprising Waitz searches far and wide for information. “I’ve looked up stuff on my phone hundreds of times,” he says. “Sometimes you get lucky and find something on the web. Somebody usually has the same problem with the same truck. It’s hit or miss, but it helps you bypass a lot of the guesswork. It gives you ideas and a direction to follow. You find ideas you might not have thought of by yourself.”
Waitz’s new job as shop supervisor keeps him away from the wrenches, something he says he misses. Instead he’s busy running the morning safety meeting, signing work orders, scheduling jobs and equipment, checking emails, time sheets and other administrative duties.
“I always liked working on things, taking something broke and fixing it,” Waitz says. “I’m kind of doing that now, just at a different level. Fixing systems instead of machines.” But Waitz doesn’t mind at all when one of his mechanics is called away and he gets to spend a few hours in the shop filling in.
Hiring and firing responsibilities come with his new job, although Waitz says he hasn’t done either yet. A slowdown in the oil field work has cooled off construction related employment in South Texas, and Waitz says he intends to get his system better organized before it ramps up again.
One thing he has come to realize is that mechanics and technicians coming from an automotive background don’t necessarily make good diesel and heavy equipment mechanics. “Automotive work is very structured and it’s easy to see how many hours it takes to do things. There’s a lot of information out there,” Waitz says. But some of our cranes don’t even have a service manual. You have to be very resourceful if you’re going to work on one.”
One initiative Waitz is working on is to set up a system to match the job expectations and training for the different skill levels of his mechanics. Skill levels in the shop vary and many mechanics are what Waitz calls “experience based” or specialize in just one area. So in the future he hopes to have a system in place that develops more well-rounded mechanics who can meet a variety of challenges.
One of the big changes in Waitz’s new job is the transition the company is going through. In the past most of the company divisions operated with a lot of autonomy. Most of the skills and processes were locked up inside the heads of its talented tradespeople. But with new management in place, the company is placing emphasis on standardizing and streamlining process and procedures and moving a lot of the records to digital formats.
The digital model has it benefits Waitz says. “It is efficient in that the history of each piece of equipment can be accessed and you can easily see all the previous work orders. But it’s been a challenge getting the mechanics to use a computer instead of a filing cabinet.”
Paul Paterson, construction equipment director at CCC Group, is Waitz’s supervisor and nominated him for the Technician of the Year award. “I came up as a technician in the Coast Guard and I have never encountered someone so passionate about the trade as Richard,” says Paterson. “He is so inquisitive and curious we have to make sure he doesn’t go too far in performing autopsies on core parts. He just lives to understand what makes things tick and maybe more importantly, why they stop ticking. He channels that passion into his work, and now as shop manager he channels that passion into his subordinate technicians.”
Paterson knows what a challenge it is to go from turning wrenches to directing others in the shop, working with field personnel over the phone or dealing with vendors. “Richard’s aptitude gives him authority and his experience gives him empathy,” says Paterson. “His team and his customers know that he cares about their problems and obstacles, and that he will work tirelessly to provide solutions.”
*If you would like to nominate a technician for consideration in the AEMP Technician of the Year Award, visit their website at: http://www.aemp.org/toy-criteria/. You do not need to be a member to apply.