Featuring McKee Foods and Joshua Finley
What is your name?
Joshua Finley, but I go by Josh.
What is your position at McKee Foods?
I am an Auto Diesel Technician at McKee Foods, and I work specifically with trucks.
Did you start in this role at McKee or did you do a different job within the company prior to this?
I have had 9 years of experience in this industry. Before my job with McKee, I worked for 2 years at a local shop. For the past 7 years, I have been at McKee, working my way up to my current role. Originally, I was hired in as a Trailer Mechanic, and I stayed in that role for a year and a half. My primary responsibilities were troubleshooting lights, managing break repairs, working with tires, and building my knowledge repository of McKee Foods Fleet Maintenance. Then, I moved into the Auto Diesel Technician position where I was on 3rd shift for 4 years. Generally, younger, less tenured technicians begin on 3rd shift. Now, I am the Lead Auto Diesel Technician of the 1st shift, and it is my responsibility to support the supervisor and act as the stand-in supervisor when he is not here. At age 26, I am the youngest member on this shift.
How would you describe your career to someone unfamiliar with it?
My role is to repair and maintain the entire McKee Foods transportation fleet including heavy duty trucks, trailers, yard tractors, cars, pickups, vans, the truck garage, and other equipment. It is also my responsibility to maintain diesel equipment operations such as preventative maintenance, system and part upgrades and adjustments and ensuring compliance with federal and state vehicle requirements. This includes engine operations, general safety and combustion control standards, in addition to diagnosing and troubleshooting any issues or problems, so equipment is always ready for use. In a sense, the auto diesel technicians are the support desk, along with the maintenance team, for our truck-transportation fleet.
The transportation industry is continuously evolving, especially the trucks and equipment, so it is my role to continuously learn and serve as the expert on fleet maintenance. There is not a step-by-step guide, and each day comes with a set of unique circumstances, so you must be an analytical, driven, and self-motivated problem solver comfortable with ambiguity, flexibility and technology. The job is not complete until you have tested it yourself to confirm the issue no longer exists and the upgrade is working properly. At the end of the day, I am responsible for ensuring that the entire McKee Foods Transportation Fleet is ready to ride.
What does a typical day look like for you?
When the drivers are experiencing any problems with their trucks, they submit an electronic ticket. From there, we are assigned a ticket, and it is our duty to run a diagnosis, identify the problem and employ a solution that resolves the issue and closes the ticket. When I stand in as the supervisor, it is my responsibility to assign the tickets to our technicians and give guidance on handling the requests, while completing my own tickets. A ticket can also be for equipment upgrades, compliance testing and more.
Essentially, you will receive a ticket that designates the equipment you will be working on, and a brief summary of what issue they are having, or what upgrade or adjustment is needed. From there, you take charge and begin the troubleshooting process. If it is a maintenance-based operation, like a routine upgrade, you must know how to employ the solution and begin.
In most cases, it’s an issue or repair – which can be anything from air brake systems, differentials, clutches and drive lines to suspensions, transmissions and engines – so the first thing you do is hook it up to a laptop and begin the diagnostic check on the electrical system. You need to stay up to date on the electrical operating systems to correctly identify the problem. Sometimes you can dive right in, but other times you may need to connect with the person who submitted the ticket to gather more insight. Interpersonal communication plays a huge part in my day-to-day work. You learn how to explain the technicalities and ask questions in an easy-to-understand, digestible way. The more information you can elicit, the better.
From there, you guide the entire diagnostic process. Once the ticket is checked and resolved, you can close it out.
What do you enjoy most about your career?
What I enjoy most is the constant change in the industry. My appetite for knowledge is huge, and you are continuously learning new things as the standards and systems are constantly evolving. For instance, as emission levels get tighter and tighter, you have to keep up and ensure trucks are compliant. Every year new trucks are released, which also means new operating systems exist, and you have to keep up with the proper diagnosis of maintenance systems. You never get bored, and there’s always room to grow. Every day is different, and it is such a gratifying feeling to figure out a new solution or resolve a difficult problem.
What kind of education or training opportunities helped you become successful?
I got my Diesel Mechanic Certification from Chattanooga State Community College. It was a three semester program that provided a baseline knowledge of the field and instilled a mechanical aptitude. The program was divided evenly between class work and field work. Half of the day you spent in the classroom, and the other half you spent in a shop on campus. The hands-on experience gave you an idea of what you would be working with. I would say it prepared me well to start, but my skillset really began to develop when I got out in the field and started doing actual hands-on work.
What workforce development or on-the-job training have you had?
McKee Foods provides excellent training. When you are first hired, they pair you up with a tenured member who gives you a basic, holistic understanding of how things work at the shop. They also let you do the work so you can dive in with hands-on training.
On the maintenance side, they provide comprehensive computer-board-based training for all new industry updates such as emission testing training and training courses on proper diagnostic procedures and maintenance systems. Essentially, whenever we get new equipment, there is more training. We also receive great support through the manufacturers of the equipment, parts and trucks.
I think one of the best parts of McKee Foods’ workforce development is the career path they have laid out. There are defined, written steps laid out so you can progress in ranks of pay, responsibility and overall growth. Every time you complete the step, you move up a rank.
What would you tell a high school student or adult considering a career that is similar to yours?
This career is never going to go away. You will always have the opportunity for employment. There is a shortage of auto diesel technicians, and an imperative need. Trucks will always be moving on the road, and we will always be moving freight. It’s a hot skill to have, with a ton of room to grow.
If you like working with your hands, continuously learning and utilizing innovative technology, this will be a great career move for you. Any experience with technology will give you a competitive edge, so make sure you develop that skill as well. This job is not for everyone, and you must be comfortable diving in to the unknown. You have to possess the willingness to investigate and the drive to find a resolution. There is not just one right way or a systematic process, so you have to be comfortable with asking questions, creating your own path and being wrong sometimes.
What training do you feel is most valuable to someone considering a career that is similar to yours?
The most important training I did for my professional development was to receive my ASE Master Certification. This requires 8 difficult, comprehensive tests as well as smaller certifications. Each one covers one of the eight designated areas of automotive repair. They are multiple choice, but long and very detailed in each area. However, McKee Foods pays for the test once you pass. I have finally completed all 8 of the tests, so I am officially a Master ASE Certified Auto Technician.
Master certified technicians are competent in all phases of auto and truck repair and command the highest pay scale. This gives me an advantage across the entire industry and at any company I’ll work for. I am very fortunate McKee provided me with this opportunity. The career path they have laid out also helps prepare you for the tests. For example, I have my CDL-A License from completing one of the steps.
What is it like working for McKee Foods, and what do you enjoy?
I like working for McKee Foods because it is a family-owned and operated company that treats people like people, but also has the impact of a big business. There is room for growth here, and they genuinely want you to succeed. A majority of management began in the plant, and they encourage movement within the company. You have great work/life balance with guaranteed weekends off for the auto diesel technicians – which is a huge benefit for me. Overall, the people and genuine sense of caring make it a great place to work.