WyoTech students at work.

Collaborating with schools key to solving diesel technician shortage

Jan. 25, 2022
The commercial vehicle industry may need up to 35,000 new diesel technicians by 2024; institutes such as WyoTech are teaming up with employers to create a sustainable pipeline.

According to several groups, the diesel technician shortage will continue to be a problem for fleets and shops in the coming years. The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) has named the ongoing diesel technician shortage as a top concern for 2022. Furthermore, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted over 28,000 openings for diesel service technicians and mechanics will surface annually through the rest of the decade. The non-profit technician advocacy group TechForce Foundation projected that demand for new diesel techs may rise to 35,000 by 2024.

“Although demand is strong, with 642,000 auto/diesel/collision techs needed between 2020 and 2024, the shortage continues to worsen," said TechForce CEO Jennifer Maher in 2020.

On the positive side, diesel technician and auto mechanic trade schools such as WyoTech continue to weather the storm and supply the vehicle maintenance and repair sector with qualified talent. As of October 2021, the Laramie, Wyoming-based school had 685 students enrolled, an increase of 2,300% from 2018. And WyoTech's tactic of teaming up with potential employers has yielded positive results.

Last September after a recruiting trip, John Deere dealer C&B Operations offered jobs to six students who were close to graduating from the nine-month program.

“The shortage of technicians is not a problem of the future, it is now,” said Adam Somers, regional human resources manager for C&B Operations. “This has a large impact on not just C&B Operations, but on many other companies across the nation. It greatly impedes the ability of companies to repair products and return them to customers in a timely manner. Industry partners such as Wyotech have been a blessing producing quality students to bridge that gap of the supply meeting the demand.”

This is exactly what WyoTech President Jim Mathis likes to hear.

"WyoTech's mission is to prepare students for success in their career of choice," Mathis said after the trip, which involved flying the students to C&B dealerships. "For these students to be offered jobs by C&B, before they have even completed their program, is a testament to the training offered here at WyoTech and how those in the industry view WyoTech."

Along with teaching students the skills to make them hirable, such as diagnosing and fixing engines, WyoTech injects networking and career-focused events into the curriculum. WyoTech puts on job fairs each quarter to allow companies from various industries across the country to woo potential entry-level technicians to fill their individual skills gaps.

"Collaboration between diesel tech schools, such as WyoTech, are vital to not only the industry, but also the current supply chain issues that are plaguing the nation," Mathis asserted. "The technical school industry, as well as the ATRI, knows the importance of the education and training we provide students and what it means for the industry as a whole. The more schools that can collaborate with employers and motor carriers, the better long-term outlook the industry has."

George Arrants, vice president of the ASE Education Foundation, explained the matter more bluntly in a Fleet Maintenance column.

“...if you are not involved in your local schools and programs, you are part of the problem. Get involved and make your voice heard. Engage in local programs that can provide you with the workforce you need.

...Many schools and course titles refer to our industry as 'diesel technology,' and most students who take “diesel” want to work on trucks or heavy equipment. We, as an industry, need to engage these schools and students and let them know what we have to offer. We need to continue to promote the Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC) and the benefits of the organization and its members. If we don’t, we are just another table with a banner at career fairs handing out trinkets. We need to make the instructors and schools aware of the value of our industry and opportunities at the beginning of their education.

More recently, Arrants spoke to Fleet Maintenance and reiterated that the real issue is more nuanced than just needing more warm bodies:

"I've been asking for a while, 'Do we have a shortage—or do we have a shortage of qualified applicants?' When you talk to most employers, they say, 'Well, no, we've got applicants; they're just not qualified.'

That means we don't have a lack of interest in our industry; we have a lack of qualified applicants. And just in our accredited schools, we impacted over 115,000 students [in 2020] in transportation programs. And accredited schools maybe make up 45 or 50% of the total programs in this country. So if you figure during COVID we're impacting 115,000, you’ve got to figure the other 50% is probably fairly close to that. That's a large number of people. And if we have that many people interested, we just have got to get involved."

Leveraging technology

Virtual reality technologies can also enhance the education process for those training to become diesel technicians. Educators are leveraging such technologies to further engage students with their respective curriculum. One such program is Diesel by Distance, based at Wallace State Community College in Alabama. The program integrated a VR service from TRANSFR in April.

“We are focused on our mission of helping to create that classroom to career pathway,” said Bharani Rajakumar, CEO and founder of TRANSFR.

The goal of the Diesel by Distance program has been to enable more engaging distance learning. Historically, the challenge with manufacturing and the skilled trades has been the need for hands-on training and distance learning has traditionally been thought of as online video, Rajakumar noted.

“We worked to understand what are all the things that someone would need to learn in order to become part of a diesel technology career pathway. We included things like replacing shock absorbers, putting together and taking apart engines, and things of that nature,” he added.

Technology can also assist employers in need of technicians with recruiting.

“You can start building your relationship with the school virtually,” Arrants said. “You could be a guest speaker from 2,000 miles away. … Since many of the schools are still virtual, their advisory committee meetings are virtual. You can get your feet wet by learning what’s going on with the school without leaving your office.”

Photo courtesy of Wallace State Community College and 30408408 | Sauliusl | Dreamstime.com
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