Joe Thomas, foreman with Knowlton & Sons Masonry, Clifford, Pa., took home  the top prize in the 2007 “Telehandler Skills Challenge.”
Joe Thomas, foreman with Knowlton & Sons Masonry, Clifford, Pa., took home the top prize in the 2007 “Telehandler Skills Challenge.”

Operators dramatically raised the bar, or rather the pallet, in the second annual “Telehandler Skills Challenge” sponsored by JLG at the World of Masonry/World of Concrete in Las Vegas. Licensed operators from across the country, plus Hawaii and Canada, competed using their choice of Gradall, JLG, Lull, or SkyTrak telehandlers.

The course recreated situations the operators encounter at work, such as placing a pallet on a platform high overhead, and then returning it to a small storage space on the ground. Operators also conducted safety inspections of their respective vehicles before running the course.

On the first day, the top eight operators were selected in the preliminary round to advance to the next level of competition. Each finalist had two chances to navigate the course on the second day, with the best score of the two runs counting. Judges rated each operator's accuracy, safety procedures, load placement, and overall time to complete the course.

These criteria set the event apart from other driving contests. “A telehandler operator's skills are very important to the entire worksite,” said Bill Hindman, president of Industrial Marketing Services, JLG's public relations agency. “That's why safety is such a big part of the scoring. Speed is an element of this challenge, but it's really about how fast they can complete it safely and accurately. A person can zip through quickly, and not even qualify as a finalist,” he explained.

This concept was not lost on the winner. Joe Thomas, a foreman with Knowlton & Sons Masonry Construction, Clifford, Pa., drove a Gradall Model G6-42P to first place. “The most challenging part of the event was safety,” admitted Thomas, a telehandler operator of nine years. “This contest really makes people focus on safe operation, and I've definitely thought more about it since I've been back at work.”

He has also started thinking about next year's competition. But before he can get back to Las Vegas, he'll have to get past his co-workers. Knowlton & Sons sponsors its own operator competition each December, and sends one winning operator to compete at the World of Masonry. In 2006, Knowlton's Darin Mason won third place in the first “Telehandler Skills Challenge.” Explaining his approach, Thomas said, “Our company's operators are very prideful, and competitive. My main goal this year was to beat Mason's time from last year.”

Other companies might also be adopting this winning strategy. Hindman noted that the level of competition seemed higher this year than last. “It may be that more people are hearing about the event, but I also think some are specifically training for it,” he said.

There are numerous incentives offered to the skills competitors. Thomas' first place prizes included a 42-in. plasma television and a Miller generator. Second place winner Pete Greco from G. Porter & Co., Naperville, Ill., won a Weber grill and an Omaha steak package. Eric Roussel of Randy Roussel Masonry, Dubuque, Iowa, won a Miller welder for third place. Roussel was the contest winner in 2006.

The three top operators also received crystal trophies, a die cast model of the telehandler they used in competition, and JLG apparel.