George Arrants, Training Consultant, K&D Technical Innovations

Addressing the technician shortage: A national concern with a local solution

Aug. 10, 2018
How one community has taken strides to develop qualified employees while they’re still in school.

When it comes to the shortage of technicians for fleets, there are two different concerns that require two different solutions.

First, it’s important to define the term technician shortage: Does your fleet have a shortage of applicants? Or, a shortage of qualitied applicants?

Many fleets indicate they have a shortage of qualified applicants due to internal company processes and policies.

For example, if a fleet uses an electronic application system, are there gates and criteria established by the human resources department in that process that would stop or prevent a possible qualified applicant’s information from getting to the appropriate department?

Are the qualifications on the job description truly meeting the needs of the position, or are there additional requirements that someone added based on an old job description or standard set of criteria the company has always used?

This is becoming a major hurtle for larger companies and for companies where the department in need of a new employee or technician is not on the same page as the person or people preparing the job posting and the “real” requirements.

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A group of folks in the Fresno, California, area are taking on both scenarios.

In 2015, members of the Fresno Business Council, in Fresno, California, decided to address the issue of the growing skills gap in the workforce and a need to develop a broader range of career pathways.

Members of the business council acknowledged the continued technological advancements and the increased skills gap of incoming employees. To address this issue, the council sought to connect educators and employers to assist in the process of creating the curriculum for these educational programs.

“Technology will continue to rapidly change the needs of the workforce, and continuing to work closely with industries and employers is the only way to ensure adaptability in programs,” according to an excerpt from the Fresno Business Council website.

One of the areas the council determined to be of “high need” with anticipated growth in their region was off-highway, agriculture and, especially, on-highway diesel technicians.

Invite educators to industry events

Mike Betts, CEO of Betts Parts & Service is the driving force behind addressing the diesel technician concern. His commitment and dedication has paved the way for a long-term solution.

Betts and other community members determined there was only one school in the area at the time that offered a diesel technician program. They then approached all of the schools in area – both high school and college – and met with senior school administrators to inform them of the need in the community and the support they would receive from the industry. Betts went a step further to also ensure the school administrators attended an industry conference, Heavy Duty Aftermarket Week (HDAW), to get a better understanding of the industry, the need for educational programs and the commitment by industry members to assist.

Kristen McKenna, college and career readiness coordinator at Madera Unified School District, confirmed the benefits to educators attending these industry conferences.

“After attending HDAW for the first time in 2016, I saw how much more impactful it was as an educator to be at an industry-specific conference,” McKenna says. “To see first-hand the way the industry is pivoting and new technologies would keep curriculum more relevant. Because of this experience, we now seek out opportunities for industry-specific conferences for all of our CTE [career and technical education] pathways.”

Kristen Boroski, career readiness director at Fresno Unified School District, said educators attending industry conferences have the opportunity to gain a full understanding of the industry, and to network with members of the industry and establish common goals.

A collaborative approach

For educators, building a new program based on a specific industry’s request was unprecedented. So far, educators are acknowledging the benefits of developing these types of educational curriculums.

“The Duncan Heavy Truck program is a true example of industry aligning to education, really the best example I have ever seen or heard of,” Jeremy Ward, principal of Duncan Polytechnical High School, says. “The Heavy Truck program came about because industry, and specifically Mike Betts, approached FUSD [Fresno Unified School District] and told them there are training opportunities that our students need and that industry needs. Our district listened. He and countless others have provided the input and guidance regarding the program and its curriculum.

“When I compare this with other programs, it is fair to say that none have matched this process. To be honest, we do not have the committed voice or leader from industry for our other pathway sectors that Mike Betts has been. The result is that we are left to figure things out on our own, do our best to determine what pathways should be offered and what skills need to be a part of the program.”

“Generally, programs are started based on student interest requests, previous stand-alone courses being turned into pathways or at district request,” Cara Jurado the College and Career Readiness Coordinator at Fresno Unified adds. “There is usually very little input from industry until the teacher(s) form their advisory. This program differed entirely as it was industry who reached out to the district.”

Industry and educator feedback

Many educators in the Fresno area confirmed the viability of using this successful partnership model to develop future educational programs.

“I strongly recommend a collaborative approach to creating new and reimagining existing programs,” Fresno Unified School District’s Boroski says. “Soliciting input and feedback in a cycle of continuous improvement creates a trusting relationship that builds opportunities for students – opportunities that in isolation could not be imagined or actualized.”

Boroski adds it is critical to have “champions” from both the educator and industry side to help organize, communicate and collaborate with one another in order to ensure success of the program.

 “I don't believe the school would have made the same decisions without local industry involvement,” Bob Blanchard, master technician and trainer for Affinity Truck Center says. “Our committee members bring many years of experience as well as current products for the students to take advantage of.”

Blanchard also says the collaborative approach has also benefited the industry in helping them understand changes within the school programs.

 “Without these meetings, our local industry would not have known about the new heavy truck program being developed,” he says.

As for industry members serving on the advisory committee, many also deemed the program changes successful to adapting to the needs of the trucking industry.

Ward, of Duncan Polytechnical High School, says for future educator/industry curriculum development it’s important to have a diverse and engaged advisory group to gather “multiple levels of feedback and opinions.”

“I have seen how smaller sized advisory groups can push an agenda from the most vocal person in the room or from just a handful of folks present,” Ward says. “Having a highly involved and diverse advisory can help to really ensure that decisions are being made to truly prepare them for their best opportunities in their futures.”

Overall, the three Fresno-area school’s districts involved (Fresno Unified School District, Madera Unified School District and Clovis Unified School District) all received grants for this new program in excess of $2 million each. Members of the industry were also involved in the grant process by writing letters of support for the programs.

A fleet operation is part of a community. As both a personal and company tax payer to the local school district, fleet employees should consider using their voice to help educators understand local business operational and staff needs. Furthermore, partner with other like-minded businesses in the community that have the same needs.

George Arrants is the training consultant for K&D Technical Innovations. As an automotive education consultant specializing in National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation (NATEF)/ASE Accreditation, Arrants works with instructors and administrators to develop partnerships with local business and industry through program advisory committees. He chairs the Technology and Maintenance Council’s TMCSuperTech – the National Technician Skills Competition – and the TMCFutureTech – the National Student Technician Competition. His entire career has been in the automotive service and education industries.