Number of diesel tech grads falling as average age climbs

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Updated Apr 25, 2022

This article references survey results and data generated from The State of Diesel Technicians report, produced by CCJ parent company Randall Reilly and sponsored by Shell Lubricant Solutions. For more information or to download a copy of the report, click here.

The average age of a diesel technician, according to Data USA, is just more than 40 years old – about a decade younger than the average age of a truck driver, but still a far cry from the age of a recent high school graduate who just completed an accredited diesel tech program. 

Just more than 9,500 diesel mechanics technologies degrees were awarded in 2019, a drop of about 2.5%. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there will be over 28,000 openings for diesel service technicians and mechanics for each of the next 10 years and shortage of diesel technicians cracked ATRI’s Top 10 industry concerns list (No. 10) for the first time in 2021. 

According to CCJ's recent The State of Diesel Technicians survey, 76% of respondents have worked in maintenance and repair for more than a decade. More than a quarter have been in the business for 30 or more years, while just 1% claim to have been in the business for 2 years or fewer – an alarming signal of a lack of a youth movement in heavy duty diesel technicians. Data USA pegged average technician age to be 41.6 years and growing about 1%.   

As a means to foster partnerships between businesses in the transportation industry and schools in their local communities, the ASE Education Foundation has introduced a new Adopt-A-School program – a program enables businesses to provide support to local schools while simultaneously providing those businesses with access to up-and-coming service professionals entering the work force.

“If you look at the schools, the high schools, they’re pushing you to college,” said Kirk Altrichter, Kenan Advantage Group executive vice president of fleet services. “When I graduated, it was go to work, go to trade school, go to college or join the military, and they would try to steer you in the direction they thought fit best. That, somewhere along the line, got lost, and then people going into the trades really started to dry up.”  

[Related: A recipe for a successful apprenticeship program]

Schools have historically been an important pipeline onto the shop floor – 96% of survey respondents said they came into the industry after high school via apprenticeship and/or a trade/vocational program in diesel engine repair. 

Mike Coley, ASE Education Foundation president, noted the Adopt-A-School program hopes to reconnect that conduit by helping increase the number of service professionals entering the industry while at the same time providing businesses with the opportunity to connect with and help train the next generation of service technicians.

"Schools need partners from the industry to provide advice and guidance, demonstrate career opportunities for their students," he said, "and help those students get the hands-on experience that will grow their skills and encourage them to stick with an automotive career.”

The ASE Education Foundation has created a landing page, which explains the Adopt-A-School concept and allows users to link to the free online toolkit which can help businesses launch and maintain partnerships with schools. The toolkit provides information about connecting with students, supporting a school’s training program and educators, and putting students to work in the industry while they are still in school. A downloadable brochure is also available to provide pertinent information and help employers recognize the value of these partnerships.

For fleets going the apprenticeship route, Mary Grace Callipare, director of human resources at DeCarolis Truck Rental, said it is important to designate a trainer with not only a knowledge of trucks and components, but also someone with excellent communication skills. Callipare further cautioned against relying on a tech's years in service when evaluating them as a mentor candidate because, while they may be excellent at maintaining and servicing vehicles, they may lack the patience and other skills needed to teach and train others.