The trucking industry is experiencing a diesel technician shortage, which could worsen as Baby Boomers age and fewer workers enter vocational education programs.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that employment of diesel service technicians and mechanics is projected to grow 8% from 2020 to 2030. About 28,100 openings for diesel service technicians and mechanics are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or retire, BLS reported. "As an industry, we need to continually attract new generations," said Chris Hough, vice president, maintenance design and engineering for Penske.
According to the TechForce Foundation's 2020 Transportation Technician Supply & Demand Report, from 2010 through 2018, the number of diesel technicians employed has risen an average of 2.23% annually. Employment growth in the diesel sector has outperformed both the automotive and collision sectors. The report said "the stronger-than-expected economy over the past year has helped contribute to the rise in diesel new entrant demand" and the growth trend in total diesel technicians employed is expected to continue for the near future.
The Automotive Youth Educational Systems, a national group that connects aftermarket service employers with tech schools, estimates it costs about $10,000 for the initial training techs require. In addition to the need for initial training, today's technicians must pursue regular continuing education as technology changes and becomes more complex. Penske has made attracting technicians a priority and devotes time to working with organizations to find technicians and encourage potential employees to enter the field. Penske provides extensive training to help technicians reach their goals. "If they work hard and excel, they can earn an extremely good wage, and if you have a good work ethic, the sky is the limit," Hough said. "Every one of our maintenance vice presidents came from the ground up—from pumping fuel to fixing trucks."
In 2008, Penske became the first truck leasing, truck rental and logistics company to receive certification from the National Institute of Automotive Service Excellence for the company's Continuing Automotive Service Education program. Penske's 9000 technicians have an average tenure of nine years and are trained via online, hands-on and classroom instructional methods.
Penske's technicians undergo about 40 hours of training per year. The cost of ongoing training per technician varies based on the type—internal, manufacturer or web-based training—but represents close to a week's pay. That doesn't include expenses associated with travel or vehicles made available.
To properly maintain vehicles, technicians have to be aware of the latest engine and chassis technology, while service locations need the latest tooling, equipment and software that new engine technology requires. This can require steep capital investments. Because technology is evolving at a rapid pace, a growing number of fleets are outsourcing maintenance so they no longer have to recruit and retain technicians or invest in new tooling and equipment.
A new tractor with an automated transmission could have between 700 and 1,000 fault codes. Technicians need to know which are important and mission-critical versus those that just may be noise. Because of Penske's size and its relationships, technicians and management are often aware of changes before they hit the marketplace.
Having a third party manage maintenance also reduces the liability an on-site maintenance facility carries with it as well as the risks and uncertainties that can come with new equipment and technology.