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Finding new technicians

Lucas Deal July 3, 2013

A good man is hard to find.

Never has that statement been truer in the aftermarket than it is today. For the last several years the North American commercial truck aftermarket has seen a slow pilgrimage of its technicians into retirement.

Veteran techs have retired at such a rate that their old positions can’t be filled fast enough, leaving behind a technician shortage more serious than the aftermarket has ever seen.

“[Approximately] 40-50 percent of our technicians will retire in the next 15 years,” said Thomas M. James, president and CEO of the Truck Renting and Leasing Association, speaking during a panel at TMC’s fall meeting last September in Pittsburgh.

With those possible attrition rates looming, it is important for dealers and service providers to be active and tireless in finding and hiring young technicians.

Just look out in your service shop now. How many of those employees are within 15 years of retirement? At some point you’re going to need to replace them.

And if you want to do it right then, you need to start looking for replacements now.

The good news is there are organizations out there that can help.

Community colleges and technician training schools are good places to start.

Commercial trucks are a lot more complicated than they were decades ago when a majority of current service technicians entered the industry. Those technicians have learned on the job and adapted to the sophistication we see in medium- and heavy-duty trucks today, but a kid off the street hasn’t.

You can’t put a “Help Wanted” sign in your window anymore and land a qualified service technician.

Street smarts are great, but to replace your older technicians when they retire you’re going to need young employees who have been trained.

Vocational schools provide that training, and as the technician shortage grows, their numbers continue to rise.

“We’ve definitely seen an increase in student enrolling in our diesel program during the past five years,” says Tina Miller, director of public relations for Universal Technical Institute (UTI).

Ray Wheeling, vice president of advanced training at UTI, says rising numbers of diesel vocational students is a great sign for the industry, but warns employers that technician demand still outpaces supply.

To lure educated and capable technicians, dealers have to active.

“I think [the shortage] requires employers to compete,” he says. Employers who actively reach out to training schools and engage with prospective employees are going to have a leg up on competitors when those students enter the workforce, he says.

“These kids want to be wanted,” says Wheeling, who adds that UTI welcomes businesses who can shed light on the industries its students hope to enter. He says those meetings not only illuminate the students on what’s to come in their careers; it gives the employer an excellent opportunity to personally meet prospective employees.

Offering career advice and advancement is another way to help fill your technician pool during the shortage.

Just this spring, TMC introduced a technician career development task force in its S.16 Service Provider study group. Designed for dealers and service providers, the group was formed to help retain, recruit and promote quality technicians.

Brian Mulshine, task force co-chair and service development and sales education manager at Navistar, says employees are ultimately responsible for their own career path, but a dealer or service provider that shows an interest in helping and assisting its employees in moving forward in the industry could have a leg up on competitors when looking to add technicians.

The task force hopes to help dealers learn strategies to do that, and will hold its second meeting at the TMC fall meeting in September in Pittsburgh.

But even if you can’t attend the TMC meeting, that doesn’t mean you can’t offer career advice to young technicians.

Look back out in your shop again. You know how to help technicians turn their job into their career.

By offering to help young technicians do the same, you can minimize the effect the technician shortage will have on your business.

Jason Cannon, online managing editor of Successful Dealer, contributed to this article.

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