Tech demand outpacing schools’ ability to supply them

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Updated Oct 27, 2014

Growing up, there was little doubt Jeremy Dones would join the military. What might come after was anybody’s guess. “I always liked trucks,” he says. “It was kind of a family thing; always working on stuff and fixing things.”

After a four-year tour of duty with the U.S. Marine Corps Infantry, Dones – now in his mid-20s – graduated from the diesel technician program at Elizabethtown (Ky.) Community and Technical College and turned his love of trucks and fixing things into a second career. Dones’ mechanical aptitude, which helped him land a job with a shipper with a fleet of Peterbilt trucks, was a natural fit in an industry he had identified as needing qualified employees.

“There’s a shortage of truck mechanics,” he says, “and it’s only going to get worse.” In fact, trucking will need as many as 200,000 technicians over the next 10 years just to keep up with current truck maintenance demands, says Phil Byrd, chairman of the American Trucking Associations and presi- dent and CEO of Bulldog Hiway Express.

Poaching employees isn’t pumping new blood into the labor force and has only created a turnover cycle that drives up incentives and pay for a select few willing to change jobs. A recent survey from TP&S sister publication Successful Dealer shows that employees, historically, have been hard to steal.

Of those who responded to the survey, 32.5 percent say their technicians have been with the company for more than seven years. Another 17.5 percent say they keep technicians between five and seven years, while another 30 percent say their average turnover is between two and five years. And it’s not any easier to steal the new guys, with 20 percent saying their turnover is two years or less.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, more than a million jobs exist today in the auto, diesel, and collision repair industries with growth of 17 percent projected through the year 2020.

Unfortunately, only about 3,500 diesel and truck technicians enter the market through technical schools annually, according to The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence. That’s not enough to keep up with current growth trends and retirement rates; 10,000 Baby Boomers (who make up 26 percent of the U.S. population) will reach retirement age every day through 2029, according to Pew Research.

Add to that the fact that independent repair garages, truck dealers, equipment dealers and fleets are all fishing for employees from the same pool, and the situation looks bleak, at best.

READ: Trade schools struggle to keep up with demand

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