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In the midst of change, trucking needs to foster excitement

May 23, 2023
As we plug our way through the messy middle of zero emissions and technological transformations, it's important to keep the industry's younger members engaged.

No one has ever claimed that trucking was a risk-free and easy occupation. But many have proclaimed that their love for trucking runs in their veins. In order to weather the storms the trucking industry faces, we must remain curious and cautiously optimistic.

On the last day of the vendor displays at the American Trucking Associations’ Technology & Maintenance Council’s 2023 Annual Meeting, I passed three young technicians carefully clutching all the free hats they had picked up from vendors who were happy to give them away. Their smiles and laughter were infectious to others who watched them pass by, struggling to hold on to all their treasures. I mention this because it represented the excitement of many who are witnessing a transformation in trucking technology—the likes of which we have never seen before. As managers, it is your responsibility to share a level of excitement and optimism with your employees so that they can successfully navigate these turbulent times.

Read more: Shop owners share keys to keeping technicians happyAn article from Schneider, How technology is transforming diesel technician careers, identifies six ways that new technologies are transforming technicians’ careers, such as how they can ease their physical burden. The caveat: this technology also increases the need for additional education in multiple disciplines, including electrical. The article concludes that “…overall, the advancement of technology has made trucks more fuel efficient, driver-friendly, and safe.”

This is wonderful to hear since it projects all the great efforts that go on behind the scenes to maintain a positive morale within the Schneider organization. Technicians are often falsely accused of only caring for the paycheck, but in many cases their primary concerns are with customer satisfaction and doing a job well.

Jane Clark, VP of member services at NationaLease, wrote in a blog titled, Ensuring Your Technology And Technicians Are Compatible, “Techs are already having to learn new technology constantly, including telematics. Now, these technicians will have to learn to operate on two kinds of engines, diesel and electric.”

The powertrain options are growing in leaps and bounds with hydrogen fuel cells (HFC), hydrogen-injected internal combustion engines (H2ICE), biofuels, biodiesel, compressed natural gas, and more being added to diesel and battery electric vehicles (BEV).

With all these choices, I wonder if your technicians have the love for learning and excitement of discovery for the future. They sure will need it in order to be effective in the future.

Let’s look at some U.S. truck technician demographics and statistics from Zippia, a career expert site. Of the 22,839 truck technicians pulled from 30 million profiles, 3.6% were female and 96.4% were male with an average age of 42 years for all techs. The article also had statistics about ethnicity of technicians with 66.2% White, 15.6% Latino, and 9.6% Black. The average salary for a tech was $44,554. One disparaging note was that female technicians earned $2,000 less than similarly qualified males. That’s one statistic that may prevent women from entering the field and needs to be corrected immediately.

Read more: WyoTech rises to meet increasing technician demand

With my background of more than 45 years as both a truck technician and educator in diesel technology, I have experienced my fair share of managers that always had your back, and others who always rode it. But that was in a time when all trucks were mechanical, and skills were mostly gained via on-the-job training.

We can talk and learn all about the new zero-emission vehicles that are being designed, but if we fail to get technicians excited about working on them, our efforts, reports, and charts will be useless.

The acronyms used today—BEV, H2FC, NG, H2ICE, CARB—are worlds apart from yesterday and are the new norm that technicians must not only understand but embrace. Along with this is a growing positive public perception of the skill level required to become a truck technician and wages that are beginning to match knowledge levels. Technicians of today are highly skilled and embrace technology. They can even learn better and quicker utilizing augmented reality as their method of choice. Technician excitement can be fostered via technician skills competitions, mentorship, and working with your local career and technical education public high school.

Remember the young techs with their hats from the beginning of this article? I bet they brought them back to their shop and passed them out to all their buddies while laughing about how they got them and raving about all the incredible technology they saw at TMC. Their enthusiasm will encourage others to see and learn more. Let’s hope they get the management support they need to keep the excitement going.

About the Author

Ed Chipalowsky | vehicle service and support manager, North American Council for Freight Efficiency

Ed Chipalowsky is vehicle service and support manager for the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE). In this role he will be reaching out to OEMs, fleets, vendors, and municipalities to learn about their challenges in not only developing curriculum for EV technicians but also how to recruit and develop future EV techs. Chipalowsky has an extensive background in trucking and education. He has more than 40 years’ experience as a technician manager and trainer including serving as a diesel technology instructor in both college and career and technical education high schools. 

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