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Workers need to be fitter and smarter … and they’re not

March 18, 2016
One of the more worrisome disconnects now occurring in the U.S. labor pool is that even as job skill requirements are increasing across the board, today’s younger workers are increasingly unable to meet them – both in terms of physical qualifications and knowledge.

One of the more worrisome disconnects now occurring in the U.S. labor pool is that even as job skill requirements are increasing across the board, today’s younger workers are increasingly unable to meet them – both in terms of physical qualifications and knowledge.

For industries like trucking, where the equipment is becoming highly sophisticated and business practices are shifting rapidly to the digital sphere, this spells trouble – and that’s even before the unattractiveness of truck driving and vehicle maintenance jobs to younger workers is thrown into the mix.

Take the in-depth report issued by the National Commission on the Future of the Army (NCFA) back in January this year.

That detailed analysis found that only 0.7% of the U.S. population served in one of the branches of the nation’s armed forces in 2015 – a small pool of talent that is likely to shrink even more due to a variety of issues, and not just because the incoming Millennial and Generation Z worker cohorts are smaller than the groups they are replacing.

The NCFA said RAND Corp. projections show that by 2025, the military age population will decline by 2.1% for ages 17 to 24, and 3.1% for ages 23 to 27, even as the total population grows. On top of that, less than half of the military age population is eligible for military service due to physical, educational, or behavioral fitness (e.g. criminal records), the Commission found.

“Increased disqualifications for health will overwhelm small improvements in educational attainment and aptitude as assessed by the Armed Forces Qualification Test,” the NCFA determined. “The military could relax some criteria (e.g. tattoo restrictions or body piercings) without harming the quality of recruited personnel, but significant changes in the standards for physical fitness will likely result in a less-capable force.”

Of course, the military demands higher levels of fitness be attained and maintained compared to most civilian jobs. But then the basic knowledge requirements for many civilian jobs – even in the vocational trades, especially for truck repair – are skyrocketing.

Take for example the findings from this recent CareerBuilder survey: nearly a third (32%) of employers have increased their educational requirements over the past five years, with more than a quarter (27%) now hiring employees with master's degrees for positions primarily held by those with four-year degrees in the past.

On top of that, 37% are hiring employees with college degrees for positions that had been primarily held by those with high school degrees, the firm said.

According CareerBuilder’s online conducted by the Harris Poll of 2,338 hiring and human resource managers in the U.S., employers are mainly boosted education requirements for “middle-skill” jobs:

  • Entry-level or low-skill: Educational requirements are up 46%
  • Middle-skill: up 61%
  • High-skill: up 43%

When asked why they are doing this, 60% of the managers in CareerBuilder’s poll said skills for those positions “have evolved,” requiring more educated labor.

This isn’t a phenomenon restricted to “high-tech” jobs by the way. This is happening to truck technician field in a big way, Joe Puff, VP of truck technology and maintenance at NationaLease, told me recently.

“The last 10 years we’ve seen truck technology change at hyper speed and it’s still changing at that pace,” he said. “Back in my day, there wasn’t anything really electronic on a truck other than the radio. Today, if you are a good, experienced technician, that’s the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree in terms of knowledge acquired. To be a complete bumper-to-bumper technician today is the equivalent of a Master’s degree or Ph.D. That’s the equivalency in terms of schooling and constant learning.”

And for that reason, Puff stresses that truck maintenance is more complex yet not necessarily any easier compared to the past.

“In some ways, rebuilding an engine is the easy part,” he emphasized the challenge now is successfully digesting all the diagnostic data, integrating it with the truck, and making it all tick smoothly.”

George Arrants, director of training and recruitment for the WheelTime Network, added during a panel discussion at the 2016 Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC) annual meeting that basic knowledge is now increasingly lacking among many high school graduates seeking jobs in the vehicle repair trade.

“We’re really talking about ‘structural unemployment’ where there is a disconnect between industry needs and education,” he explained. “We assume there are certain skill sets out there in terms of basic math and science and we’re finding out they do not exist. We apply STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] every day on the shop floor.”

That’s a tough mix of problems for sure. Let’s hope the industry finds ways to surmount them.

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