The professionals needed to repair heavy-duty trucks and commercial vehicles require a set of skills distinct from the “grease monkeys” of 40 years ago. It’s time the industry pivots to reflect this change, say those closest to the issue.
The industry faces a looming question: How will it train enough technicians on alternative-fuel engines, battery-electric vehicles, fuel-cell-electric vehicles, and the latest smart-screen dashboards? The need for new skills and knowledge has caused schools to upgrade their curricula. But how can fleets help address this critical issue?
There are no easy or concrete answers. But what is certain is that you want to train techs on innovative technologies now, so we have technicians who can work on them later.
Schools have enough students in the pipeline today, but not necessarily students mastering skills the diesel industry needs. Educational gaps can take some blame for this. However, fleets working in silos versus partnering with educational facilities share responsibility, too.
Heightening concerns are issues surrounding the industry’s need for technicians tomorrow and the educational pipeline of today. According to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics projections for 2020-2030, demand for diesel technicians will continue to rise, albeit slightly slower than before, at about 1% a year. This growth will generate a need for 25,000 new diesel positions by 2030.
But that’s not accounting for the technicians that will be needed to replace those leaving the industry — 163,000 positions by 2030. The COVID-19 pandemic led to a giant spike in technicians changing careers, leaving the workforce or retiring early. There’s no question that the technician shortage has grown more acute in the last decade.
TechForce Foundation’s 2021 Transportation Technician Supply and Demand Report explains the void as a matter of supply and demand. The demand for automotive, collision and diesel technicians in 2021 exceeded the number of technicians completing their certification in 2020 by over 500%. That means the industry must quintuple the number of technicians entering the field just to keep pace with current demands.
People still apply the concept of dirty work to commercial vehicle repairs. It’s a stigma that persists and drives people away. STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) classes also can steer students toward these careers. Many students gravitate toward robotics and computer electronics, both of which are in high demand in the technician space. The industry needs these skills, and they are rewarding careers.
Encouraging job shadows and internships at the high school level can attract more students to the fold, as can recruiting students while they attend post-secondary education. Penske, for example, employs recruiters to forge working relationships at vocational-technical schools and at the high school level.
Another creative method of reaching out to young people is the TMC SuperTech augmented reality game, which lets players progress through a career as a maintenance technician to a shop owner in the trucking industry. The app, sponsored by the Arkansas Office of Skills Development, TA Petro, Cummins, Dana, and others, is inspired by TMC’s national technician skills competition.
Scholarships also help drive this effort. TMC and Old World Industries have partnered to offer a series of scholarships for students looking to pursue an education in heavy-duty commercial vehicle maintenance. The PEAK Performance Scholarships will support two students with up to $12,500 each for their education at a college or vocational school.
The technician shortage lacks a short-term answer. But fleets that think long-term will do better than those that don’t. These forward thinkers will partner with education and industry to access recent graduates trained to their needs. They will recruit well and from diverse groups. And they will do what it takes to keep technicians for the long haul.