When it comes to the Diesel Mechanic shortage, it’s clear the crisis has moved from topic of conversation to a nationwide crisis. In fact, in recent Highway & Heavy Parts polling, finding quality mechanics was in the top three business concerns listed by nationwide repair shops as many have already seen the effects of the shortage. The fact of the matter is the current pool of Diesel Mechanics is aging, fewer high school graduates are choosing the profession, and the mechanics that graduate from a technician program don’t have the training to keep up with the demands of an established repair shop. So, what can you do?

According to the Department of Labor, 76,900 Bus and Truck Mechanics and Diesel Engine Specialists will be needed between 2014 and 2024 to keep up with industry growth and replacement of retiring professionals.

According to the Department of Labor, 76,900 Bus and Truck Mechanics and Diesel Engine Specialists will be needed between 2014 and 2024 to keep up with industry growth and replacement of retiring professionals. However, according to George Arrant with Wheeltime, “We graduate 10,738 medium and heavy truck technicians every year in this country.” At that rate, we’d have more than enough graduates to keep up with the demand, yet we still are feeling the effects of a shortage. George Arrant’s argument is that it’s not about the number of graduates, but where they are going. The question now is, What’s keeping them from ending up in your shop?

“We graduate 10,738 medium and heavy truck technicians every year in this country.” 

- George Arrant, Wheeltime

The Three Reasons Diesel Technicians aren’t ending up in your Repair Shop

At the recent Technology & Maintenance Council’s annual meeting, a panel discussion was dedicated solely to addressing the technician shortage and providing tips for business owners trying to fight the associated strain. According to the panel, there are three reasons graduating technicians aren’t making their way to your repair shop.

  • Students Aren't Taught What the Industry Needs

Perhaps the most-frequent complaint of Highway & Heavy Parts Repair Shop Value Program Customers is that the new technician graduates don’t know the basics of diesel repair. Yes, these recent grads have completed a rigorous training program, but that’s where it ends. Recent graduates have more at their disposal than ever before; they have simulation labs, textbooks, and Google, but where they fall short is in hands-on training. Diagnosing a truck’s problem, knowing the parts needed for the job, and knowing how to complete the repair as efficiently as possible takes a little more than simulations, it requires hands-on experience and that’s something most repair shop owners don’t have the time to teach.

So, what can we do? According to George Arrant, if the schools aren’t teaching what the industry needs, it’s the industry’s job to get involved with the schools. It’s certainly easier said than done, as the demands on repair shop owners’ time increase every day, but that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. Recruiting is one of the most difficult business tasks, and hiring quality employees requires a lot more than posting a “Help Wanted” sign when you’ve got a position to fill.
According to George Arrant, if the schools aren’t teaching what the industry needs, it’s the industry’s job to get involved with the schools.

Schedule time every week and devote it solely to building your recruiting and succession plans for staff. Don’t wait until the techs have graduated to start recruiting them, be an active supporter of the program at your local trade college. Aside from gaining access to up-and-coming mechanics, you’ll also have influence to ensure the vocational program is providing the training your future workforce needs. And, don’t stop with trade schools, make sure your recruiting outreach includes connecting with military veterans as well. Most military equipment operates on diesel, and many retired military mechanics have a solid understanding on how these engines work. Finally, be sure your business’ social media page is up to par, and post details about open positions on the page to connect with younger technicians. With the advent of of the Facebook Jobs Bookmark, you can easily post jobs and manage applicants all from your business’ Facebook page.

Ultimately, building and maintaining a recruiting strategy is a long-term commitment that takes time to manage. If you don’t have time as a repair shop owner or manager, appoint a trustworthy staff member to be the Recruiting Champion. Allow them to take ownership of the project, but work beside them so the recruitment strategy reflects the mission of the business. Once the recruitment strategy is in maintenance mode, allow your Recruiting Champion a few hours each week to maintain, and stay in communication as recruiting needs change. 

 

  • Impossible Expectations Placed on New Graduates

When it comes down to it, when you’ve hired a new technician, you expect them to be productive on day-one, right? While it would be awesome if your new-hire was able to jump right into a major repair, chances are he’ll need a little mentoring. In fact, during the panel discussion, Derek Sutherland, manager of fleet maintenance for FedEx Freight noted that many of the applicants for jobs only have automotive experience. And, while many have computer and diagnostic skills, they are often overwhelmed by the mechanical needs of heavy duty trucks. George Arrant added that business owners expect productivity from new graduates, despite their lack of actual experience. He noted, “That was never expected from our generation. Today we beat them up over it and are surprised when they go elsewhere.”

The last thing any repair shop owner needs is to hire a technician, then immediately have to hire again because the first one didn’t work out. It’s important for repair shop owners and managers to understand 100% productivity isn’t going to be there on day one for your new hire. In fact, 100% productivity is likely 3-6 months down the line. Shorten training times by matching new employees up with a tenured employee. Not only will the two employees learn from each other, but it also helps new employees form working relationships that will make them feel connected to the team.

It’s important for repair shop owners and managers to understand 100% productivity isn’t going to be there on day one for your new hire. In fact, 100% productivity is likely 3-6 months down the line

As a repair shop owner or manager, you know there’s no one-size-fits-all employee type; each and every employee is unique. Level with your employees, understand what they want out of the job, learn what they need from the job, and adjust  your management style to fit. Do your employees like words of encouragement? Is productivity increased when you offer training opportunities for employees? Can you keep morale high by buying pizza once a month? Employees that feel valued, and most importantly heard, rarely seek new places of employment, which keeps shop productivity high and recruitment costs low. Win, win, right?


  • Other Industries are Stealing Technicians

When it comes to the technician shortage, the majority of people think it only affects the heavy duty industry. Unfortunately, industries such as power generation are feeling the effects of the shortage as well. While George Arrant argues tech schools need to stop marketing the programs as “diesel technicians” and focus on the trucking industry instead, it’s likely tech schools aren’t going to change their marketing techniques as job placement is their priority. The truth of the matter is, the only way to combat other industries stealing technicians is to focus on the recruitment strategy of your shop. Get involved in the local tech school, build relationships with students and staff, have a Recruitment Champion, and never lose focus on recruiting.
The only way to combat other industries stealing technicians is to focus on the recruitment strategy of your shop.

Solutions for your Repair Shop Today

If there’s anything we can agree on from this blog post, it’s that recruiting quality technicians is a time-intensive process. Even if these tips were enacted this moment, your shop may not see benefits until weeks, even months have passed, which is frustrating if you’re short-staffed today.


  • Maximize Labor Hours with Time Management

When it comes to shop productivity, whether you are short-staffed or not, time management is essential. How are you spending your labor hours? 91% of repair shops don’t have a parts department, and many of the repair shops we’ve polled have technicians, shop owners, and managers making calls to track down parts in addition to completing repairs. Of course first instinct is to do whatever it takes to get the job done, but that can be a costly mistake. For example, if a technician makes 3-5 calls to track down a single part, they spend an average of one hour per job searching for parts. Considering the average repair shop completes five to ten jobs per week, and spends an average of $125 per hour in labor, the average repair shop spends $31,200 to $64,200 each year searching for parts alone. It’s time to think of time in terms of profitability, and we’ve got a few tools to help:

  • Join the Repair Shop Value Program

The secret to maximizing profitability through time management is using the tools available to you. Highway & Heavy Parts is proud to offer the Repair Shop Value Program, which provides immediate access to ASE-Certified techs that understand what it takes to complete a job quickly and effectively, as well as lines of credit, waived core charges, and Member-Exclusive Pricing. To learn more about the Repair Shop Value Program, click here.

  • Use the HHP Online Quoting Tool

Highway and Heavy Parts also offers an Online Quoting Tool, where you can input the details of your job on our website and an ASE-Certified technician will provide a comprehensive quote showing everything you need to complete the repair. Simply put, we’ll find the parts so you can focus on fixing the engines and turning a profit.

Ultimately, the diesel technician shortage isn’t going anywhere. The key in thriving despite the labor shortage is building a recruitment strategy, working with local technical programs, understanding the team you have, and maximizing profits through time management. Feel free to comment, or email marketing@highwayandheavyparts.com with any questions or suggestions you may have for future blogs, and be on the lookout for more content designed to help you Grow Your Business.