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A leading trucking official said “there is definitely a shift going on” for the industry to address its critical shortage of technicians.
The upbeat projection from Technology & Maintenance Council General Chairman Kenneth Calhoun follows a Department of Labor report that employment of diesel service technicians and mechanics is expected to grow by 12% from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average for all occupations.
TMC is a division of American Trucking Associations.
Calhoun (Bobby Castile/Altec Industries)
The government report said 67,000 technicians will be needed to replace retired workers, and 75,000 new mechanics must be added to meet additional demand by 2022.
Calhoun said in an interview with Transport Topics that a series of events is leading him to become cautiously optimistic.
“What we’re finding is that education is beginning to understand this is a real need,” Calhoun said. “State governments are definitely understanding this because of the economic impact it is having on them. As people are coming to the realization if we don’t have those people who build things, make things and fix things, we risk our economy grinding to a halt.”
Calhoun’s optimism is borne out by new figures obtained by TT. According to the Leesburg, Va.-based National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, the number of people who hold ASE Student Certifications has increased to 57,181 from 51,867 in June 2018, a 10.2% year-over-year increase. The ASE Student Certifications, which can be for both truck and automobile training, cover two years and are not renewable, so the certificate holder is encouraged to continue training and attain higher levels of proficiency.
ASE figures also show the number of certifications possessed by truck-specific technicians, who all are working in the industry, has increased by 2.9%, to 143,669 compared with 139,618 in June 2018. The institute says it is common for technicians to hold more than one certificate — for brakes and drivetrains, for example.
However, the number of truck-specific technicians has declined by 2.9%, to 31,914 from 32,900 in 2018. An ASE official said it’s not clear if the number of people leaving the industry actually has decreased, but rather those seeking advanced certifications may have leveled off.
“There is certainly evidence that more students are entering the diesel technician training system, which is very encouraging,” TMC Executive Director Robert Braswell said. “Starting salaries are pretty good on the diesel side. The word is getting out we have a good story to tell, and we’re getting the benefits of that.”
Braswell said while the numbers for student technicians are improving, more needs to be done to retain workers considering career changes and encourage those in the industry to improve their skills.
TMC plans to introduce an app by the fall that will be used as a clearinghouse for information about careers in the diesel technician field.
“Parents and school officials have an outdated public image of technicians. But like the rest of the world does with social media, you go directly to the customer, and it works,” Braswell added.
Calhoun said one reason why the industry is becoming attractive is the high level of debt that many students have when leaving four-year universities.
“We’re starting to see some side effects from what has become a catastrophe with the amount of student loan debt,” Calhoun said. “The disconnect at this point seems to be with the students and the parents. How do we let those people know there are career paths out there that definitely provide not only a decent wage and living, but an incredible career path? We are launching careers.”
Madison Area Technical College in Madison, Wis., is taking up the challenge. Diesel instructor Thomas Wozniak helped prepare 20-year-old Ryan Meppelink for a future in the industry. They will travel to Kazan, Russia, to compete on the WorldSkills USA team Aug. 22-27.
WorldSkills, which takes place every two years, is a gathering of high-performing youths who compete in 56 skills. Wozniak is Meppelink’s coach and adviser.
Meppelink is the sole American contender in the heavy-vehicle maintenance category. In Russia, he will face seven technical challenges. Judges are industry professionals.
Meppelink has been fascinated by all things mechanical since he was 14.
“I’m very honored to represent my country and the diesel industry at this prestigious event,” Meppelink said.
“Ryan has all of the tools to have a wonderful career and be a leader in this industry for years to come,” Wozniak said. “Ryan is a superstar in the making.”