As the trucking industry copes with high fuel prices, rising insurance costs, and an ever-increasing shortage of drivers, there’s another potential problem looming in the near future: how to find qualified mechanics to staff their truck repair facilities.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 2012, the automotive and heavy truck repair sector is expected to face a shortage of 107,000 personnel. This is largely because the hiring of young people into this field is lagging far behind the large numbers of mechanics that are retiring or will begin retiring over the next decade.
“Truck mechanics represent an aging workforce and we’re not attracting anywhere near the same number of new hires to replace the ones that will retire,” Chuck Roberts, executive director-industry relations for the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE), said. While it’s difficult to point to any one reason for the shortage of “new faces,” he noted that several conditions are interacting together that may reducing the available labor pool for the automotive and truck technician field alike.
The main one is that the “image” of the truck and automotive technician is still stereotyped to a large degree – a job representing “tough, greasy, dirty work” as opposed to the much more sophisticated computer-based environment it is today, he said.
“The job is much, much different than it was 15 or even 10 years ago,” Roberts explained. “Today, the computer skills required to be a truck technician actually match the skill sets the labor face has today – yet they are choosing to go into computer repair, for example, rather that truck repair based on outdated images.”
Roberts believes the industry will have to start the recruiting process at a much younger age – even the elementary school level as opposed to the high school environment.
“It’s going to take a grass-roots level effort to recruit new hires for these jobs, and it’s an effort that’s going to have to get underway sooner rather than later,” he said.
“At all levels in this industry, trucks continue to get more sophisticated,” said Reed Murphy, president of Kansas City-based MHC Leasing, in an interview with FleetOwner. “That increases the difficulty in both recruiting and training mechanics. We as an industry are facing that.”
Ric Hiller, chief of Arlington County, VA’s equipment division – charged with keeping the county’s fleet of 1,500 units up and running – is one fleet manager trying to come to grips with that issue.
“I’ve doubled my training budget to try and keep our guys current with all the technological changes going on in trucks and heavy equipment today – especially in terms of their electrical and computer systems,” he said.
“On top of that, it’s getting harder and harder to find qualified technicians today because the job has become so computerized,” Hiller explained. “So we’re talking to the local school system to see if we can’t find a way to ‘grow’ our own technicians from the local community, getting vocational students into part time jobs while they go to school so can recruit them full time when they graduate.”