Industry growth is busting out all over

The months of March and April were busy for those of us in this industry. Many meetings and conventions held – TMC, MATS, ConExpo and ATD among them.

Although it is an extremely busy time, it is good to get out and get a feel for the pulse of the industry. While the meeting and convention programs are an important part of this, it is the individuals I’m able to meet and discuss with about the industry, that is always the best part for me.

We have seen a long, slow ramp-up occurring over the past few quarters. Freight tonnage, considered to be a key indicator of all aspects of the health of the industry, seems to be on a steady, upward trend. New and used vehicle sales are looking stronger. Repair and parts business operators are smiling a lot more these days.

It is starting to look pretty good for our industry. The only drag, other than government regulations, are the residential, commercial and heavy construction industries, which seem to be anemic.

Hints and signs of optimism, real or imagined, have been around for some time now. It wasn’t until I attended ConExpo in mid-March that I realized that if it isn’t a real recovery coming, there nevertheless sure are a lot of people planning for it.

Clean Diesel

ConExpo is a huge show that is held every three years. It takes over the entire Las Vegas Convention Center and all its parking lots. There were more than 2,000 exhibitors and a few million square feet exhibit space.

There is every imaginable truck and piece of construction, mining and industrial equipment that one could imagine, and then some, much of it built around a lot of new and advanced technology. And without exception, the trucks and equipment still all run on diesel fuel.

I am convinced that clean diesel power is the way of the future, and it appears that everyone making and selling equipment agrees. From the smallest tractors and pieces of equipment, to the cranes with 300-foot booms, everything on display at ConExpo was powered by diesel engines.

Even more impressive was that the equipment was manufactured in every country you could think of: the U.S., Canada, Italy, Germany, South Africa, China, India, Japan, etc.

All of this equipment will need skilled technicians and professionals in OEM and after-sale service really soon.

Different Attitudes

Another thing that struck me about ConExpo was the overall upbeat attitude of the people - both the buyers and the sellers. Things haven’t been that way recently, and there was a lot more than just tire kicking taking place. People were buying things.

The recent truck and equipment shows and conferences also seemed to be teeming with optimism and excitement. I found that interesting because there were not that many new developments, only the idea that we’re on our way to a healthy recovery.

Forecasts and orders for new trucks are climbing, and there are spot reports of a shortage of used trucks. It is encouraging to see more than small green shoots.

The only concerns that stood out were the possibilities of a shortage of key components to build trucks, and the ability of employers to staff with skilled labor for assembly and technical jobs.

Without getting into a philosophical discussion on the whys for this, it seems that there could be a certain amount of constraint with the number of skilled workers available to fill the influx of new positions opening in the industry. That may have an effect on the industry’s ability to build new parts and new vehicles, but it may also have an effect on the parts and service industry. This is an industry that thrives on skilled workers –in shops, truck factories and parts suppliers’ plants.

Training Need

I have written many times on the need for training and education for our current new workforce. Not the ones for “green” jobs, except I think all jobs are “green,” as in “show me the money” green.

All aspects of the industry - assembly, repair technicians, parts professionals and sales and service-related positions - need to be ready for growth and for the new technologies coming on board.

Visit your local technical colleges and speak with the administrators about the need to prepare our workforce for a big influx of growth. Can you help them? Can they help you?

We all need to be involved.