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It’s Time for Today’s Technicians to ‘Take the Wheel’

The shortage of skilled truck technicians, along with the retirement of the boomer mechanics, is becoming a national challenge.

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By D. Michael Pennington, Fleet Equipment Senior Staff Writer

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“Technicians play a critical role in the overall success of any trucking operation,” said J. Scott Steurer, global manager—service and customer support, Eaton Corp. and Roadranger.

“Specifically, they can be instrumental in maximizing the trucks’ fuel efficiency (proper tire inflation, lube levels) and making an important safety contribution (properly operating braking systems).

“In the past, many graduates of vocational technical institutions were bypassing trucks for the perceived glamour in automobiles, but that’s changing now, as trucks become more and more sophisticated. Today’s trucks are far more high tech and this is helping our industry recruit a very good pool of new, ambitious technicians,” added Steurer.

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“The shortage of skilled workers with the retirement of the boomers is not only a huge national challenge, it’s an international challenge,” said Tom Holdsworth of SkillsUSA, a nationally recognized partnership of students, teachers and industry that works to ensure a skilled workforce. It serves more than 300,000 students and instructors annually, with 13,000 school chapters.

Linn State Technical School in Linn, Mo., is an active contributor of skilled technicians, thanks to dedicated instructors and a strong advisory board.  Glenn Cram, district manager at Meritor, said, “I’m involved with the Medium Heavy Truck Technology and Heavy Equipment Technology program. The school’s advisory board helps the instructors with current industry developments relevant to new graduates.”

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With an active internship program for its students, Linn State moved into a new $15 million facility in late 2010. Board members are from companies like Eaton, Hendrickson, Detroit Diesel/Allison, Craftsmen Trailer and Meritor.  

Life-long mechanic-turned-instructor Rob Lydiard of Forbes Road Career and Technology Center just outside Pittsburgh works hard with his students to produce an environment in his shop classroom and teaching that mimics what the students will experience when they enter the workplace.  

“Sometimes I apprentice students at one of our partner’s sites, such as Point Spring & Driveshaft Co. in Pittsburgh, one of the country’s more progressive independent warehouse distributors with extensive service facilities. Forbes Center also works closely with the area Caterpillar dealer, Beckwith Machinery.

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Lydiard applauded the many suppliers that donate to the school’s Heavy Equipment Technology/Service Engineering programs. “Building relationships with my industry friends” is key, according to Lydiard. Among the companies donating are Meritor, Cummins, Con-Way, Davco Technology, Detroit Diesel, Eaton Roadranger, F.D. Lake, Grand Traverse Diesel Service, Isuzu and JDE Equipment.

“Technology isn’t replacing yesterday’s technician. Technicians that use that technology are,” commented Bobby Christopher, instructor at Central Piedmont Community College (where over 100 students are enrolled today).

“There are so many different ways to help a student— just let them know what’s out there in terms of benefits, pay, tools and by all means, come and talk to them. We produce a very good ‘product’—our graduates—future leaders of the diesel industry,” he underscored.

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Ten-year instructor and department chair at Texas State Technical College Henry Macik reports over 225 students and 10 instructors in its diesel program. “The students must be self-motivated and interested in their careers—self-starters and strong work ethics serve the students well.”

“Thankfully, we’re seeing a good pool of applicants now graduating from both two-year and four-year schools and remain hopeful that future availability will be where it needs to be for us and the trucking industry,” added Eaton’s Steurer.
 “My students are successful as technicians because of the supporting companies, which provide them with (learning) opportunities,” said Forbes’ Lydiard.

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SkillsUSA’s Holdsworth recalled a recruiter’s phone call. “He said we aren’t preparing dealer managers here, we work with technicians. The recruiter told me he can get executives anywhere but if he had a parking lot of techs here, he could place every one of them tomorrow.”

“The bottom line is that the key to dealing with the technician shortage problem is to take constructive action today,” said Carl Kirk, executive director, the Technology & Maintenance Council, ATA.  FE

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