Wanted: Truck technician, $200/hr

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Truck technicians aren’t really in short supply. They’re people, just like everyone else. And there are plenty of people.

What there’s a shortage of is the desire to take up an often greasy trade, make only OK money and feel lower than snake toes in social stature, compared to those in cleaner, better-paying professions.

Actually, I should have put “better-paying” first, because that’s the problem’s ground zero. It’s all about the Benjamins. If you need something badly enough, you pay for it, and you get what you pay for. The computer industry learned that years ago, and information technology specialists practically started writing their own job tickets.

At the recent fall meeting of the Technology & Maintenance Council, Brian Strach, technical services manager for Hendrickson International, cited the 10-year period between 1982 and 1992. College attendance rose 6 percent, while vo-tech attendance dropped 15 percent. I don’t doubt for a second that’s true, but why? Because college graduates and those with computer skills were being offered bigger bucks.

I’ve heard and considered other explanations for the “technician shortage.” “There’s not enough training available,” some say. Maybe, but if trained technicians could fetch high dollars, trust me, the training would magically appear because trainers could cash in, too. Everyone knows young people who have taken out student loans for college, computer networking certification – any training that promises the good life. Kids demand that training because companies have shown them the money.

“Technicians are viewed as second-class citizens,” claim other perpetuators of the shortage myth. Tell me that’s not a money thing. If someone wanted to give me a couple of hun an hour and be foolish enough to hold me in low regard, I’d be happy to hang up my keyboard right now and chuckle all the way to my tool cabinet.

And what about technicians’ own image of themselves? OK, this one is kind of delicate, and I’ve known fleet managers who have made great strides in improving technicians’ self-image.

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You may remember our report a few years ago regarding John Diluna, then transportation manager for Interstate Brands’ private fleet, who sought to make technicians feel good about their careers. “What surprised me was that these were competent technicians,” Diluna told us. “But I realized that the images I had of them as intelligent individuals were not the same images they held of themselves.”

Diluna started sending technicians to communication, conflict-resolution, interpersonal skill development and team-building training, as well as to basic computer training.

“Not only did training outside of their technical competency help them in the shop,” he said, “but they were feeling better about their newfound abilities.”

I can’t fault Diluna’s rationale and, having worked as a technician, I still applaud his efforts. But I can’t help but think that, say, driving to work in a new Lexus could do at least as much to bury any self-esteem issues.

Diluna had based his approach on a 1995 study conducted by Cummins Engine Co. – the Diesel Technician Availability and Shortage Report.

The report, based on a survey of technicians, found four major unattractive perceptions of the truck technician profession. The perceptions were:

  • Inadequate wages in relation to other professions – cited by 31.7 percent of respondents;
  • Poor physical working conditions(hard, dirty work) -34 percent
  • Poor societal image of trade schools and vocational training -25.5 percent;
  • Educational or societal trends cause truck technicians to have a poor professional image – 32 percent.

I say these four perceptions really boil down to one reality. Maybe it’s just me, but if you pay me enough, I promise I won’t gripe about getting down and dirty. And if my bank account has enough digits in it, I could give a rat’s what people think of my profession or where I went to school.

I’m not saying technicians should make more money than lawyers…uh, wait a minute…I’ll have to get back to you on that one. But the fact remains that trucking needs good technicians, and it’s clearly a case of supply and demand. You want ’em? Pay ’em.