ASE reaching out to public schools to reach potential diesel tech recruits

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Updated Dec 13, 2017
Intelligent predictive maintenance is what Bill Combs, director of connected fleets for Penske Truck Leasing, calls ‘the ultimate goal.’

Most everyone seems to agree that career education in schools is important, but on the average, the typical curriculum doesn’t reflect the general consensus.

Oh, there’s plenty of talk about coding, and there’s actually a day in schools dedicated to the high-tech computer language. The Hour of Code, a global computer movement, was just held this last week during Computer Science Education Week.

Kindergartners to 12th graders were allowed to participate, though the event is pretty much open to anyone who wants to give it a try. Over a half-billion people around the world—mostly students—participated. As a former teacher I can tell you that it generates a lot of buzz at school.

Code writing appears to be a viable career path, but what if the student has more of a natural affinity for mechanics? Let’s say the student is more interested in trucks and cars and wants to learn more about what makes them tick.

Automotive Service Excellence, or ASE, hopes to reach those students. And as a former teacher, I’m thrilled to hear it especially at a time when shop classes are not nearly as prevalent as they once were at public schools. (Shop was one of my favorite classes in high school. I still have that Briggs and Stratton that got me first place at the Del Mar Fair).

“ASE along with our education foundation and other industry partners are working with organizations like TechForce to try to get younger people—even down to the middle school level—interested and aware of opportunities in transportation service industry and hope to raise awareness so that we can attract more people into those secondary and post-secondary programs and get them into our industry,” Mike Coley, senior vice president at ASE told me Monday at the Rush Truck Tech Rodeo in San Antonio.

Coley pointed out like so many others before him that new mechanics are needed to take the place of those that are facing retirement.

“I think the industry’s seeing a lot of older technicians that are retiring so there’s continuing demand and increasing demand for younger techs to get in,” Coley explained. “What we’re seeing is demand across the board and we’re competing with other skill trades: construction, plumbing, electrical, welding for the same type of talent coming out of schools to get into the automotive transportation industry and so it’s a very competitive environment.”

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Making it even tougher, as Coley pointed out, is that would-be mechanics are often swept up by their local dealerships which more times than not handle light-duty vehicles—not medium and heavy-duty trucks. Increasing recruitment for those sectors is going to take a concerted effort and getting the word out to talented middle and high students is an important step, Coley said. Just don’t count on Uncle Sam to play PR for the industry.

“There is some government involvement, but mostly it’s the industry,” he said. “The industry’s got to come together. If we wait for the government, we’re going to be waiting for a while. So, we’ve got to go out and grow our own, get involved in our own local schools, get on the advisory committees and go to career days and tell people about the opportunities that are available in our industry.”

After teaching 11 years in public schools, some of the best feedback I ever got from parents was for my career research project. And some of the best conversations I had in school were with a student who stayed challenged, intrigued and motivated while rebuilding a Ford F-100 at home. (We didn’t have a shop class to offer at school).

He was genuinely passionate about what he was doing and definitely interested in becoming a mechanic. Doubtless, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Hour of Code are building bridges to the upcoming workforce, but they’re not reaching students like him.

I can definitely appreciate the irony here. Medium and heavy-duty vehicles are steadily becoming more computer-driven and technologically advanced, yet code writing is winning strong in the classrooms. It sure would be nice if more industry leaders got involved in the nation’s schools and bridged the gap between code writing and all those trucks that deliver those code writers’ computers in the first place.