With many diesel technology courses popping up at career and technical institutes across the country, many wonder how long it will be before the trucking industry’s diesel technician shortage begins to let up. With a growing number of schools, industry, and fleet operations working hard to address the mounting technician shortage, some think the shortage may not be as acute as initially thought.
The fact is, more schools are seeing the advantages of reaching kids with this curriculum at far younger ages and making changes to the overall curriculum to provide a pathway to a technical education. If kids are mentored throughout high school and technical school, then following through with their education and reaching industry-level employment is not such a far-off prospect.
When a student at a technical college completes a certification program with a company and then gets hired into that company, the validation of the program becomes apparent. Still, there are minds to change on the matter. Why? Because on the surface, when you need a technician immediately, investing in a high school or technical college student seems pointless when it could be three to five years before said individual might even by employed by your company.
Yet, the trucking industry faces a sobering reality. The industry needs an estimated 29,000 diesel technicians by 2024. In order to meet the forecast demand, companies and schools must adjust their strategy. Fortunately, work has already begun. A three-pronged effort that partners business groups with educational institutions and fleets operations can help meet the growing demand.
No one company can single-handedly ease the truck driver shortage. Companies must all be rowing in the same direction to meet the need. One of the big problems remains large players who are sitting on the sidelines waiting for an external fix to the problem.
School Districts Come to the Rescue
In January of 2018, the Fresno Unified School District broke ground on a $9 million, state-of-the-art trades facility for high school kids looking to get some solid workplace experience in before graduation. The school district’s superintendent says the facility is designed to help students find jobs with companies who are already involved with school training, lending their experience, suggestions and know-how.
The Fresno project does not stand by itself as the only project of this type ongoing in other municipalities across the country. These programs are designed to prepare students to apply their knowledge and skills to the specialized maintenance of and repair of trucks, buses and other commercial motor vehicles.
Students who complete these programs end up NATEF-certified and able to enter the workforce as capable diesel technicians with the knowledge necessary to work on not just diesel engines, but also drivetrain components, suspension, steering, brake systems and more. Many programs also offer training on HVAC systems and electronic systems.
Even better, students who complete these programs also learn about algebra and geology. These tech programs offer half-a-day of basic education components. Upon graduation, students can head to post-secondary schools or immediately enter the workforce.
Programs created by schools in partnership with trucking companies help address the needs of tactile learners and introduces them first-hand to the jobs they will be doing. Far too often parents, teachers, and others within the school system advise graduating students to go to university, without realizing the trades provide lucrative career options at a fraction of the cost. Trade schools are trying to show parents, teachers, and students that there are alternatives to huge university bills with no guarantee that a job will be waiting for them on the other side.
The fact is, more tech training opportunities must be addressed at middle and high school levels. Schools are great at teaching to the eyes and ears of their students, but that is not how everyone works. Many jobs, including that of a diesel technician and other technical trades, require much more hands-on, tactile learning.
There are problems in the system, however. Not all programs succeed. Most of the success has been found when companies step up with their own equipment, training resources, and materials. Penske is one company that has been doing a lot of educational partnering. Industry advocates are wondering why more companies are not stepping up to the plate. After all, these are the very companies that are suffering from the truck driver shortage.
Taking it Upon Themselves
For this reason, many companies have begun taking their efforts in-house. Many motor carriers already have large fleets of technicians, who they tap for mentoring efforts. They also evaluate their compensation, benefits, retention and recruiting efforts to determine the best way to find and keep diesel technicians.
One method includes establishing separate pay scales. One scale can be for tractor trailer technicians and another for those who have the initial tractor trailer skill, but then go through training programs to learn new skills, such as telematics, different drivetrain components, and others. Once they learn the new skill, they receive a raise or bonus related to the new skill.
Different training and skills tiers can come with specific raises and monetary – or otherwise – benefits. This also provides flexibility for managers to reward and incentivize their people. Mechanic programs designed to help new technicians just out of high school learn the skills they need from those who have been working in the shop for a long time.
When technicians hit the ground running with the tools needed to get the job, everyone benefits. Entry-level positions can be stepping stones for higher positions within the shop. In the entry-level roles young people can grab parts for technicians clean the shop floor, run parts and more. While these may sound like menial jobs not fit for even entry-level workers, these workers are gaining valuable experience preparing them for higher positions in the shop once the time comes for them to move up.
Shop managers can monitor the progress of their entry-level technicians and provide recommendations regarding promotions, merit increases, and items of recognition for a job well done. Helper programs like this can take technicians with very little experience and put them on the path to becoming leaders within the shop.
Salary tiers tied to learning new skills can be combined with programs recognizing good attendance, high levels of productivity and great customer service. Shop technicians have the potential to earn large sums of money when they both learn new skills and turn in good performance. This allows employees to challenge themselves and control how and when they make more money and achieve new skills.
If a fleet wants to go even deeper, they can develop a dual evaluation process, which allows both the technician and the manager to evaluate and rate each other on the effectiveness of the relationship. Managers and technicians can compare the goals they set for each other throughout the year.
Programs like these reduce the cost per mile on routes, improve repair and turnaround times, decrease overall turnover and increase young people’s desire to become technicians. When companies grow their own technicians in-house, they find better results, sometimes surpassing what they can achieve when partnering with schools and trade organizations.
Why Retention is Key
One of the critical pieces that far too many fleets overlook or fail to allocate enough resources to is that of retention. It is important that the fleet training manager or department focus on retention from day one. The time most fleet technicians bail is within the first month of training.
New technicians need to be shown where lockers are, get their uniforms fitted and introduce them to the individuals that will shepherd them through the process. The very first day, as well as the thorough nature of the orientation process is critical to keeping the people you need on board. While this may all sound quite simple, your entire program hinges upon this process.
Fledgling technicians need to get up to speed quickly, but also feel like they are getting the resources they need to get the job done and succeed as fleet technicians. Motor carriers need to build upon a new technician’s level of knowledge and provide them with a clear path for growth and financial success.
Many youth of today find the idea of sitting in a windowless cubicle talking to people on the computer and phone all day entirely unappealing. Trucking companies and trade schools must focus on reaching out to young people who would much prefer getting their hands “dirty” working in tactile professions.
When these programs are started early in a motor carrier’s life, they can build upon successes and ensure they have processes in place to find technicians, train them for the problems they will face in the shop, then retain them for the long haul, no pun intended.
When combined, these measures can drive up retention numbers and give a motor carrier a leg up on the competition. Is your fleet making vital investments in retention, training, and compensation to keep your diesel technicians happy?