Trying to find a trusted and reliable mechanic to service my Dodge Ram 1500 is challenging enough. I can only imagine what it's like for today's commercial vehicle fleets.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were 267,000 diesel service technicians working in the United States in 2002. The BLS projects that employment of diesel service technicians will grow slightly to 279,790 by 2008.
I personally believe that the trucking industry will see a dire need for technicians in the next five to seven years as the transportation of goods by trucks increases and as engine technology continues to evolve. In the years ahead working on a heavy duty truck will grow more complex, requiring even more specialized skills.
Concern has also been raised over the increasing age of the average technician. Who will fill these roles when the technician retires? Today, kids would rather stay in front of their television playing video games. This has led to more youth looking to get into computers or other fields other than service repair.
Another issue we have is the image of our industry. Let's face it: we're not seen as an exciting industry. Although the BLS calls a career as a diesel service technician "an attractive job because it usually offers relatively high wages and the challenge of skilled repair work," people just don't believe it.
Job security should be an important reason why youth decide to enter the technician field, as most persons who enter this occupation can expect steady work, because changes in economic conditions have little effect on the diesel repair business. Not too many industries can say that.
Finding a technician may be the easy part; retaining him is something different. Retention is not a serious problem for many fleets who make a concerted effort to keep their technicians well-paid and happy. There is little question that it is going to take some big money to attract and keep people in the future.
In addition to the willingness to spend money, building and keeping enough technicians on staff requires a well-thought-out, well-executed plan of action. The best solution is a strategy that encompasses both short- and long-term tactics for finding and keeping all the shop employees you need.
The strategy should include these key steps: determine the number of employees and their required skill sets to get the job done; make recruitment an on-going process; have your employees promote your company to their friends and families; and determine what type and number of workers you need to staff a shop on a regular basis.
You should also keep abreast of the changing technologies to understand how many technicians of a given skill level you will need. By the same token, tracking the maintenance requirements—and repair stats—of vehicles will indicate how many lesser-skilled or non-technical maintenance personnel will do the trick.
You should also become acquainted with schools, vo-techs for the most part, which remain the primary source of entry-level talent.
HDMA is involved in an important initiative with other industry organizations with the intent of bringing more technicians into the light- and heavy-vehicle industries. The Global Automotive Aftermarket Symposium Scholarship has been awarded to more than 1,000 students in its 10-year history. Many of the recipients go on to become diesel technicians.
The scholarships are available to students in two-year technical college programs and vocational schools and four-year college programs. To be eligible for a GAAS scholarship, applicants must be enrolled full-time in a college-level program or a NATEF (National Automotive Technician Education Foundation) accredited automotive technical program.
I encourage the industry to learn more about the GAAS scholarship. More information is at www.automotivescholarships.com
At Heavy Duty Aftermarket Week 2006, it may have been best said by presenter Chuck Udell, a senior partner at Essential Action Design Group: "Those who build great companies understand that the ultimate key to growth is not markets or technology or competitors or products, but the people—the ability get and keep enough of the right people."
In summary, create a strategy and think long term. This technician shortage will not go away anytime soon and retaining your good service professionals will be an ongoing task. Act today instead of worrying tomorrow.
Tim Kraus is Executive Director of the Heavy Duty Manufacturers Association. Prior to joining HDMA, he served as director of sales and marketing at Triseal Corp. The Heavy Duty Manufacturers Association (HDMA) is the heavy duty market segment association of the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Associations (MEMA). HDMA exclusively represents the interests and serves heavy duty product manufacturers.