When it comes to ensuring you have enough technicians, the best bet is to grow your own. At least that is what Tim Spurlock, president of American Diesel Training Centers, told attendees at a recent NationaLease maintenance meeting.
For one thing, counting on candidates from for-profit diesel technician schools is not a good bet as enrollment at many of those schools is down, and one well-known school ceased operation over a year ago. In addition, you can’t count on community colleges because only 13% of them currently have diesel programs, according to Spurlock. On top of that, it is believed that the need for technicians will grow over the next decade to both replace retiring baby boomers and fill new demand.
Spurlock believes that many programs are wrongly focused on 17- to 18-year olds when the real target market for diesel technician jobs is people 25-years and older who are looking for steady work with decent wages and benefits.
The problem for many of these people is they can’t afford to fund their own training at your typical diesel tech program and they don't qualify for any financial aid that might be available.
The solution is to grow your own technicians, which of course requires you to make a financial commitment to pay for some basic training. But first, make sure you understand the types of skills you need these technicians to have. In 2017, the ASE Education Foundation completed an industry survey in which they asked: What do you want to see in a new diesel technician hire?
It turns out respondents weren’t looking for someone able to work on engines or transmissions. Rather the majority of people surveyed wanted technicians capable of performing PMIs, working on electrical systems and brakes and able to perform diagnostic procedures.
They also wanted people who had what is commonly referred to as “soft skills,” which include things like showing up for work on time, having a good attitude, and knowing how to interact properly with others in the workplace.
Spurlock contends that U.S. schools are both overtraining people in diesel tech programs and creating false expectations for graduates of these programs.
American Diesel Training Centers offers a 300-hour program that Spurlock says equips people with basic skills need to successfully enter the profession and handle the basic jobs most shops need them to be able to do.
Helping people with basic skills acquire more in-depth knowledge and a broader skillset (along with keeping them once they have been hired) is up to the fleet. Spurlock says people in skilled trades leave for the following reasons:
- Relationship with the boss
- Stuck in one place (no promotional track)
- Company puts profits before employees
- The work is meaningless
- The culture is toxic
- They are not recognized
Evaluate yourself in each of these areas and take steps to fix any inadequacies that would cause people to want to leave.
Growing your own techs should help with the retention process especially if you offer paid training. It is perfectly acceptable to ask someone to sign an agreement stating that they will work for you for a minimum time frame following any paid training.
A key to successfully retaining new techs is to set up a mentorship program. As Spurlock says, “You can’t put these folks on an island.” They need to have someone they can rely on to answer questions and guide them. According to Spurlock, the retention rate of people who stay with their first employer is 84% if that employer helps the employee vs. 34% at businesses where no help was given to the employee.
If you are not home growing your own technicians, now is the time to start planting some seeds to make that happen.