Good examples for maintenance workers come from unlikely places

Nov. 29, 2006
Sometimes, the answers to our biggest problems often are right under our noses. Joel Leonard discovered this when he encountered a remote control car enthusiast with an incredible dedication to his craft.

This month’s article wasn’t easy to write — not because it’s offering another untapped labor pool to address the Maintenance Crisis, but because I must eat a little crow.

Want to find talent that is eager to learn more about new technology? People who have spent hours exploring and honing their skills in advancing small, complex machinery that incorporates mechanical precision, electrical components and electronic circuits? Want people who have strong skills in remotely controlling equipment? Who are constantly looking for a competitive edge? Who have experience working with exotic tools, metals and fuels, have worked extensively with small, complex equipment and delight in pushing it to new performance levels? How about someone who can work within a small budget, generate significant results and loves to win?

Who are these people? Where can you find them? Perhaps right under your nose.

Now for the crow. Like most boomers who are sandwiched between the responsibilities of their children, parents, work and other demands, seeing people waste time is becoming more and more distasteful to me. For years, as I commuted to and from my ailing father’s house in the country, I drove past and sneered at adults playing in the dirt with remote control cars. They seemed to be wasting their lives away, so involved in reliving what I guessed was their unfilled childhood. I thought they were a bunch of losers.

That was before I learned that my Dad’s neighbors host the Remote Control Car (RCC) Winter Race, with more than 200 participants from throughout the Southeast. Many arrived with a travel trailer, a workbench and often their kids serving as their pit crew. They set up an old truck trailer with panels cut out on one side so the contestants could peer over the elaborate dirt track with jumps, turns, straightaways and high back curves partitioned with rubber dividers. They set up a PA system and a concession booth, all on the side of a country road.

Investigating further, I found out that these “toys” are actually more sophisticated and advanced than most  hot rods. To determine the winner, track times, speeds and other data, each car has the same kind of transponder technology as NASCAR. And believe it or not, the small engines generate horsepower comparable to professional dragsters, just on a much smaller scale.

As they were practicing for the race, the track had a familiar sound — a different frequency and decibel level, but eerily similar to the sounds I heard at the Charlotte Motor Speedway when I worked to set up maintenance management software with Richard Petty 10 years ago.

Hiring a bunch of yahoos who play with toys? Are you crazy? You may be as skeptical as I was, but you’d be very lucky to have a maintenance team as enthusiastic and capable as many of these remote-control car and airplane hobbyists. Many of the skills needed to run highly sophisticated, intricate production lines are being developed as these people play. Converting skills developed by a hobbyist can be more productive than trying to lure mercenaries from other companies whose loyalty will be to compensation, not relationships.

To reach this untapped labor market, build relationships with the drivers. Go to races and watch, perhaps with your own kids. Not only can you see who is technically the best, but you also can see who is a good team player, who wins and loses well. They don’t even need to know that you’re recruiting, and you can glean some great information that will help you in managing them later.

Perhaps your company can sponsor races or donate prizes for the winners. Unlike NASCAR, for as little as $1,000 you could be the name sponsor of some these races. You can submit your job order to race promoters and ask them to help spread the word.

Here are some links to help you locate local remote control car, boat and airplane enthusiasts:,, and

We all need to be careful at whom we look down our noses — they may very well be the same people who can help us solve our biggest challenges.

Contact Joel Leonard at [email protected].

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