This story appears in the Sept. 21 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.
A good portion of diesel mechanics today are baby boomers, and with the boomers reaching retirement age between 2010 and 2030, industry experts are predicting that a severe diesel mechanic shortage is on the horizon.
In 2004, the Department of Labor estimated there were 606,000 diesel technicians, figures that include bus, truck, heavy-duty and farm equipment mechanics. The department estimated that mechanic shops would need 205,000 more diesel technicians by 2014 to fill new positions that will be created and to replace positions that will open up when workers change fields or retire.
“Even though we’re in a recession, the aging workforce hasn’t stopped aging,” said George Arrants, business development manager at Cengage Learning Inc., Florence, Ky.
Tony Molla, vice president of communications for the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, Leesburg, Va., said he doesn’t see the necessary numbers of technicians completing vocational education programs to meet the need.
“We’re only graduating about 35,000 technicians, total, in this country a year. That includes auto, collision and diesel,” Molla said — and he estimated that only about 10% of those graduates are diesel and truck technicians.
“In the truck market, I think it is already too late. We’re looking at a significant shortfall,” Molla said.
Dick Fazzio, service manager for Mountain West Truck Center, a truck dealership for Classes 4-8 in Salt Lake City, already sees the effects of an aging population.
“It is always hard to find good diesel mechanics, and the reason is that people like myself are dinosaurs. The bulk of the young kids coming up today want to be gamers or computer techs. They don’t want to get dirty,” he said.
Wyoming Technical Institute, or WyoTech, a trade school in Laramie, Wyo., has one of the largest diesel programs in the country and graduates about 600 diesel technicians a year. Training takes nine months, and graduates leave as entry-level technicians.
“Some graduates will hit the ground running and will never need to shadow someone, but there are other students who need to shadow someone to learn the ropes of a particular company,” said Chad Enyeart, coordinator of the diesel/advanced diesel program at WyoTech.
Arrants said many technician graduates also leave the industry. “They wash out or decide to take another trade,” he said.
Graduates who continue in the trade after training still need three to five years of experience to become master technicians.
“The only thing education can’t teach is experience,” Arrants said.
Enyeart said that while the current economy has slowed the number of technicians retiring, it is only delaying the inevitable.
“When we come out of this economy, you’ll probably see 40% to 50% of technicians retiring within 18 months to two years,” he said.
The basic laws of supply and demand will rule when the predicted shortage hits, Arrants said.
“If we don’t have a large number of auto and diesel technicians, the cost of repair is going to go up,” he said.