Finding good young diesel technicians is hard enough, but due to their high demand, keeping experienced techs can be just as difficult. And the need for technicians is only expected to grow over the next several years. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that from 2021 to 2031, diesel service technician and mechanic employment will grow 4%.
To keep up, Love’s Truck Care and Speedco, which claims to have "the largest over-the-road workforce of diesel technicians and mechanics," according to Love's EVP Gary Price, had to get proactive. To ensure the 430 Speedco and Truck Care locations have enough technicians in it for the long haul, Love’s Truck Care and Speedco has adopted the strategy of showering them with affection from the start and throughout their career.
At one end is Love’s Truck Care Academy, a five-week training program combining hands-on and classroom instruction. Love's has Truck Care Academies in Amarillo, Texas and El Reno, Oklahoma. By covering all the costs, the first-of-its-kind diesel boot camp makes the profession accessible to those not in the financial position to pay for trade school.
“I have always wanted a career in truck maintenance and repair, but going to technical school was out of the question because of the price. It was exciting to find out Love’s would cover the cost of my training,” said Keven Avalos , a 2022 graduate of the program now working at an Arizona Speedco. “I built a camaraderie with everyone in my class and returned to my shop with skills to better serve our customers and set an example for my team.”
To ensure an ROI on their free education, Love's asks graduates to sign a two-year agreement to stay with Love’s.
So far, the program has developed 300 techs since April 2022, with an additional 600 expected by the end of 2024. To get there, Love's said it will open one more facility this year and two more in 2024.
The instructors, who are full-time and Love's employees, emphasize diagnostics, troubleshooting, and repair while focusing on 11 subjects:
- Information sourcing
- Preventive maintenance
- Department of Transportation inspections
- Wheel ends and brakes
- Air Systems
- Electrical HVAC
- Noregon JPRO diagnostics software
- Daimler Truck North America
Upon graduation, the new techs receive a toolbox and tool set worth $3,500, which they get to keep after one year of service. An additional $1,200 Matco Tools credit is provided if they reach an annual incentive level.
“We know technicians need the proper tools to perform the work that we have trained them for, and tools can be extremely expensive,” Love’s EVP Gary Price said. “By providing the graduates with the correct equipment, we ensure they can properly take care of our professional driver customers and get them back on the road quickly and safely.”
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It's still too early to tell how many techs will stay and for how long, but the early indicators are promising.
"Working for Love's has been great," said Derrick Kee, a diesel technician student from Hinton, Oklahoma. "They've helped me out so much...allowing me to provide for myself and my family."
Love's also has an apprenticeship program for diesel techs to earn anywhere from $22 to $27 per hour while they learn the trade. This usually lasts six to nine months. They also receive the tool set after one year on the job.
"A diesel technician who applies to work at Love’s as a Level 5 technician doesn’t need to go through the training programs if they have sufficient industry experience," Price added. "They must pass a qualification assessment and testing by our ASE Master trainers to bypass the training"
Lifetime billing bonuses
And at the other end, the Oklahoma City-based company dispersed $520,000 in lifetime achievement bonuses to 96 experienced techs for hitting career billed repair labor milestones. The bonuses were specifically for either billing $500,000 or $1 million in light mechanical repair work on commercial trucks.
“At a time when there’s high demand for skilled diesel technicians and mechanics, our light mechanical bonuses will reward our employees for their hard work, help us attract and retain top talent and position us to provide even better service for America’s professional truck drivers,” offered Price, who asserted the incentive program “is like none other in the industry.”
Employees who have completed the Diesel Technician Apprenticeship Program also are eligible to receive an annual productivity bonus tied to repair labor.
Price noted the industry will be short more than 80,000 diesel technicians in the next five years, and that the lack of diesel technicians is the third largest problem in the transportation industry, following driver and parking shortages.
“Love’s wants to be competitive in the marketplace when it comes to bonuses and incentives," Price said. "We know it’s the people who drive our success. With these incentives and bonuses, we want our team members to feel appreciated and see Love’s as a lifetime career. Retaining skilled talent who can set an example and partner with our shop managers to mentor their teams is vital for our operation as we continue to grow our network.”
So far, the efforts are paying off as technicians are returning the love.
“Because we have created a great work environment and culture, we are seeing below-industry-average turnover rates for our technicians,” Price said.