Thoughts on the technician shortage


Fleet Maintenance recently received an e-mail from a reader about Joel Levitt’s management column, “What can we do about the lack of finding qualified technicians,” that appeared in its January/February issue.

The e-mail, and Levitt’s response, make for interesting reading.


E-Mailer Mike: In his article, Mr. Levitt gives suggestions on getting people to work in the trades. People are not as interested in the trades because the wages and work schedules in some cases are not as favorable as white collar or medical field jobs.

My stepson is two years into an IT career and he is doing better than my brother-in-law who is a plumber.

Union trade workers spend too much time laid off each year, and non union workers don’t get paid that well.

The reason for the shortage of qualified mechanics is that no one wants to work for less than $20 per hour when you have to buy thousands of dollars worth of tools, get dirty and work in the elements.

The heavy duty industry has to pay people a proper wage if they want to attract young people into the industry.

Why should someone work for $15 per hour when they can start in a low level IT position making $25 an hour and not get dirty?

I have worked in the heavy duty industry for more than 20 years and have seen only modest increases in the industry’s pay scales.

Mr. Levitt does not live in the real world.


Joel Levitt’s reply: There is no question that wages play a big part of the situation.

There is also no question that I live in my own fantasy world, but I do talk to a lot of people.

In many parts of this country, mechanic and electrician jobs go begging even at $30 per hour.

I agree that through media and history, blue collar jobs are not as cool as white collar jobs.

I don't really know how to fix this except by decent apprentice programs and telling kids that mechanic, plumber and electrician jobs cannot easily get outsourced to China or anywhere else.

One of my kids is studying software engineering and I worry about his future. Another started in a machine shop, went back to school and now is white collar. I worry less about his future.

The third boy is in retail.

I really appreciate your comments.


E-Mailer Mike’s reply:

Thanks for getting back to me

It’s not about white collar jobs being cool. It’s that white collar jobs offer much more over the long term in compensation.

My brother-in-law the plumber works out of the union hall and makes a top rate of $36 an hour when he is working.

He has been off work four months now, collecting the maximum unemployment of $900 every two weeks, less union dues and heath insurance.

That’s why people are not into the trades.

A new plumber just finishing his apprenticeship might work one or two days per week at this point or be off for months.

My point is: If the trades and repair industry don't see what’s coming, we will have a mess on our hands.