Where do you find technicians?

Finding proficient vehicle technicians is always been a challenge.

This task will become more daunting as aging baby boomers begin retiring in the next 10-plus years or so and as fewer children of the baby boomers choose a career as a technician.

What is the industry to do?

One solution is to develop stronger relationships with vocational and trade schools that have automotive and diesel programs.

Rush Truck Centers, North America's largest network of heavy and medium duty truck dealerships is doing just that.

Its truck center in Laredo, TX, has been an on-going supporter of the Laredo Community College’s Diesel Engine Mechanics and Repair Program. The dealership has worked with the college to offer internships to students to give them real-world experience by working at the dealership while they are completing training.

Late last year, Rush Truck Center - Laredo donated a Peterbilt tractor with a Utility trailer to the school and worked with key trucking manufacturers to secure computer-based diagnostic software to upgrade instructional programs for the benefit of the students.

The dealership also committed to lend the college the use of newer model vehicles as needed to support curriculum training, allowing Laredo Community College diesel mechanic students to become better acquainted with later model vehicles equipped with 2007 emissions-compliant technology.

Rush Truck Centers picked up the costs for 50 St. Philip’s College Diesel Technology students to attend the 5th Annual Rush Truck Centers Tech Skills Rodeo, held in mid-December in San Antonio, TX. This included participating in the event’s training classes on the latest in diesel and commercial truck technology.

Founded in 1898, St. Philip’s College, San Antonio, TX, is a comprehensive, multi-campus public community college whose mission is: “To provide a quality educational environment which stimulates leadership, personal growth and a lifelong appreciation for learning.”

Of late, the school, part of The Alamo Colleges, has been focusing on building its trades education, including its Diesel Technology program.

I had the opportunity see to the school’s new diesel service training facility, one of the nation’s newest, located on the school’s Southwest Campus. I was given a tour by David O’Brien, a key Diesel Technology instructor there.

The diesel service training facility consists of a 10-day shop, complete with everything you’d expect to find in a working maintenance shop. There are specially- designed classrooms for dedicated subjects; two labs, one of which is an engine lab; and a wide range and assortment of commercial vehicles and construction equipment.

Courses cover light to heavy duty truck repair and construction equipment repair. Classes are offered days, nights and weekends.

Students can earn a variety of educational completions, certification and degrees. The school offers assistance with job placement.

O’Brien pointed out that the Diesel Technology program has an advisory committee made up of 22 industry suppliers to help assure that the curriculum stays relevant and up-to-date.

Often, suppliers will provide training at the school for various groups and then leave the training materials behind so they can be used to help educate the students.

One of the many things I found most interesting at St. Philip’s College is its Career Exploration program for high school students. It is intended to provide students with an inside look at what a career in certain industrial and technological fields might be like to help them decide if such a career might be right for them.

I had not heard of anything like this before.

High school students spend their afternoons at St. Philip’s College going through the technical exploratory program, explained James Wright, director of the college’s middle college programs. The students typically spend two weeks each in classes on technical career fields in transportation, building trades and manufacturing.

Here they are exposed to hands-on projects and classroom activities. They are also provided with information on career paths, entry level pay and skills associated with jobs within the occupation and local and national occupational demand trends.

Beyond that, students are exposed to various work environments, job safety requirements, educational requirements and other vital information to aid the student with making an informed decision on career choice.

The Career Exploration program helps high school students understand that fields like diesel technology are nothing like they were years ago, Wright said. The jobs themselves are much different, and so are the career opportunities.

Rush Truck Centers and St. Philip’s College established the opportunity for students to attend the Rush Truck Centers Tech Skills Rodeo in 2009 when the company chose to hold the event in San Antonio.

One payoff from the industry-college connection has been employment of Diesel Technology program graduates at Rush Truck Centers, noted O’Brien.

Clearly, there are a number of benefits to collaborating with votech and trade schools.

Now might be a good time to get involved, or become more actively involved, with such schools. Doing so just might make it easier for you to find technicians in the future.