Rocketing fuel prices and the continuing driver shortage are topics of just about every conversation in the trucking industry. But another shortage – skilled diesel technicians – also continues to influence the fiscal health of fleets that have in-house maintenance. Interestingly, the same issues that plague driver recruitment and retention – pay and image – are the same ones that hamstring technician recruitment. But the advantage maintenance managers have over driver recruiters is that they can fish from a younger pool of candidates.
That’s why schools like Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton, Wis., want to reach out to fleets to help them match students with fleets’ experienced technicians. Dan Poeshcel, department chair of Fox Valley’s diesel program, says he can’t fill the demand for his graduates. Last year, the ratio of employment offers to graduates was 4-1. “We can’t train them fast enough,” Poeschel says. But fleet owners can help, he says. “Maintenance managers can identify potential students as young as high school age and bring them into their programs while they attend school.”
The most important contribution, however, would be for fleets to step up training and compensation and find ways to improve the image of technicians.
Michael Mills, vice president of maintenance for the Celadon Group in Indianapolis, says their training program merges the skills of experienced mechanics with the computer savvy of the less-mechanically experienced younger generation. Pairing recent graduates or current students with hands-on, in-house mentors can help merge the two skill sets. “We make the assumption that if they are motivated enough to attend school, they want to better themselves. This makes those students more attractive to us,” Mills says.
Mills believes that a well-maintained shop with highly trained technicians is an oft-underappreciated driver retention tool. “Check out your shop and ask yourself these questions: Is it clean, safe and well-lit, with a nice break room and good work atmosphere? Do you know your mechanics? How do you show your appreciation for their crucial role in the company?”
Mills plans to cook burgers for his 55 mechanics on Celadon’s Mechanic Appreciation Day. He’s also a big supporter of recognition programs like the Technology & Maintenance Council’s National Technician Skills Competition, where technicians will have the opportunity to showcase skills and knowledge and compete for prizes in their area of expertise.
Mills’ long-range vision is to provide his diesel technicians with a career path that includes work and safety incentives, appreciation and pay increases based on performance, along with continued efforts to work with technician training schools.