It started out like any other project.
I remember the order coming down from Aaron, Fullbay’s Director of Marketing. “Suz,” he said, “let’s write about the certifications available in the diesel world.”
Easy-peasy, right? We’d do a few interviews, conduct some basic research, and put together a comprehensive resource of diesel certifications. We figured it would be instructive for us, and useful for new (and maybe established) techs to check out.
Okay, yes, we also saw a spot for an easy SEO grab. Hey, we are the marketing team.
Except it didn’t quite work out that way.
The heavy-duty world is still in the process of fully going digital, and sometimes we have to phone a friend to get the lowdown. But there were no lists. I found ASE, of course, and programs from various trade schools, but not the longed-for lists of certifications—much less required or even recommended certifications.
At this point, we should have just turned to the Fullbay crew to ask for answers. They know the industry—they could have spared us some searching. But we are stubborn and curious. Well, maybe I’m just stubborn and curious. Anyway, we started making calls, and eventually realized what all of you probably know: there isn’t an industry-wide certification process.
You can argue that the marketing crew should have figured this out a little earlier. After all, we’ve written about certifications and education before, so we knew there were a lot of options out there. But that’s why we thought a list of certifications would be useful. We just didn’t realize there wasn’t really any regulation around said available certifications.
But I digress. As the futility of the original mission became clear, I began peppering the marketing director with Slack messages: “Aaron, this is not what we thought it was going to be!”
The deeper we dug, the more questions we had. Why isn’t there a certification process? Should the industry have them? Were we regretting this effort? Am I really writing this in the first person?
(It’s a different kind of article—why not test out a different kind of writing?)
One thing led to another, and this simple list of certifications morphed into something resembling an industry investigation. In lieu of Pulitzers, I accept offerings of snacks.
I’m kidding. But seriously, guys, buckle up—this was one crazy ride.
WHO DID WE TALK TO?
We finally wised up and asked the Fullbay folks. We also asked Fullbay customers. We even cornered people on the street. All of them had opinions (and some asked, “Who are you and why do you keep jabbering on about diesel?”).
Eventually, we sat down for extensive interviews with these four excellent folks:
- Tanner Brandt, President of Autodiag Clinic
- Jay Goninen, President and Co-Founder of WrenchWay and President/Founder of Find A Wrench
- Aaron Picozzi, President of American Diesel Training Centers (because there are two Aarons in this story, he is referred to as Aaron P.)
- Chris O’Brien, COO of Fullbay
Each of them had varying thoughts on certification and what the industry is or should be doing as far as asking for or even requiring certifications.
We braced ourselves.
ASE AND THE MYSTERY OF DIESEL CERTIFICATIONS
The long and short of it is that there is no accepted list of classes every diesel tech in the country should take to be properly considered a diesel tech.
Don’t get us wrong—there are all kinds of certifications out there. Manufacturers offer specific certifications to work on their equipment and vehicles. Schools offer general and specialist programs. There is, of course, ASE.
But which certifications do you need and which are just nice to have? Do you have to go back to get them updated?
Other fields have certain licensing requirements a person needs to meet, whether that’s once a year or every few years. If they don’t pass those certifications and requirements, they don’t get to operate legally.
Diesel techs don’t have this. Instead, every shop/dealership/manufacturer/fleet has its own stance on certifications and what they’ll accept and expect from their techs.
In the words of the great Boromir, “Diesel has no governing body. Diesel needs no governing body.”
“There’s not really a whole lot that exists out there that is an actual certification,” Tanner confirmed. “The only one that really holds sway is ASE. And that depends on how people view it. Outside of ASE, there’s tons of training people can get a certificate for, but not so much a certification career path.”
“It’s kind of all over the place,” he added.
I briefly nurtured hopes that I could just grab a list of ASE courses off their website and call it a day, but of course that’s not how life works.
Other countries do have some sort of universal diesel certification program. Canada, for example, has the Red Seal program. But here in the U.S., we don’t even have a law passed regarding getting certified for a high-voltage vehicle.
“We, as an industry … are just not all that well-organized,” Jay said.
There is no real industry-accepted overseeing body that can lay out certifications for diesel technicians. The Department of Transportation lays out laws and inspections, sure, but those aren’t the same thing. “There is nothing, besides ASE and OEM stuff, really, that the diesel industry accepts as a whole,” Aaron P. told us. “There’s no real I AM A MECHANIC certification.”
Everyone agreed that the closest we get to that universally accepted certification is ASE. But even then, Jay was quick to point out that there isn’t complete industry buy-in. Some companies attach a lot of importance to ASE certifications; others do not. It’s more accepted on the independent side as it indicates some level of ability, but it may not prep you appropriately (or legally) to work on certain manufacturers.
The bigger issue at hand is that ASE may not reflect the actual skill of a technician. A completed ASE certificate can indicate a measure of dedication and a good foundational skill set. But it’s also passing a test—a test that isn’t always representative of how you perform the hands-on work.
WHAT ABOUT MANUFACTURER CERTIFICATIONS?
Manufacturers add a new wrinkle to things.
Many offer “certifications” to techs that want to work on their equipment and vehicles, usually through a multi-week course. This sounds awesome: a tech certified to work on this brand can do warranty work, right?
Well…maybe. Sometimes. It depends.
Usually those manufacturing certifications steer techs more toward that manufacturer’s ecosystem. In addition, manufacturers often include some kind of caveat in their warranties that requires operators to bring those vehicles back to a manufacturer-approved facility to get the work done. If they go to an outside shop, the warranty is voided.
Here, I’ll dig myself even deeper into the Lord of the Rings pit I’ve fallen into. If Boromir goes through Gondor Truck Company’s technician certification program and becomes a master tech, he can’t necessarily make a lateral move to the Rohan Semi Group. He can bring his knowledge with him, but to gain an equivalent title and pay, he’d have to go through Rohan’s training process.
If Boromir then heads to Aragorn’s Independent Repair Shop, he brings his knowledge of Rohan and Gondor vehicles. Except he can’t provide warranty work, because while Aragorn is many things, he is unfortunately not an approved facility.
So, unless a tech wants to stick with a manufacturer for the long haul, it may not make sense to go through the weeks and/or months of training.
DO WE NEED A CERTIFICATION PROCESS AT ALL?
At some point we had to ask the obvious question: Does this stuff even matter?
Yes, we have a technician shortage, but we’re not sure we can connect the lack of certification oversight to that shortage. Generally speaking, we blame the decades-long demonizing of the trades and the push toward four-year universities as the primary reason for the shortage. Possibly we could suggest a link between the lack of genuine licensing with a lack in prestige and/or belief that the career will go anywhere. But it’s a suggestion at best.
An official certification process would require some kind of governing body. Which means the question is not, “Do we need a certification process,” but rather, “Does diesel need more oversight?”
The fact that every person we talked to had varying opinions on the matter (and they referenced other people who also had varying opinions) suggests that even if the industry would benefit from such a thing, it might be a hard sell. There are standards, yes, from one shop to another, and one manufacturer to another, but there’s no standardization.
Even if someone surfaces tomorrow, announcing, “I SHALL CREATE A UNIVERSAL DIESEL CERTIFICATION,” they’re still going to have to flex some Loki-esque mind control powers to persuade the industry to buy into it.
That’s the hang-up: industry acceptance.
“Ideally,” Aaron P. says, “a certification should reflect proficiency and knowledge. But what we’ve found is that it’s not always doing that…[sometimes] it’s just checking a box.”
THE ROAD AHEAD
For now, things continue as they have for years. Certifications become accepted and even appreciated if, over time, those who obtain a particular certification demonstrate their proficiency. If enough people with this or that certification do well, then it stands to reason that the certification is a good one. At the moment, that’s our march to an industry norm.
Aaron P. probably echoes the sentiments of many shop owners. Certifications are fine and dandy, but he puts more weight on proven abilities instead of a piece of paper. This is easy enough to see in action: either a tech knows how to repair something or they don’t.
In Tanner’s opinion, some kind of oversight/required certification may be coming for a specific sub-sector of vehicle: the self-driving unit. “As accidents occur, that’s when it will get looked at [by the government],” he said. Obviously we hope this isn’t the case, but yes, it is after accidents and misfortunes that things tend to get looked at.
That prompts another question: If the government does get involved, and starts requiring licensing, will it be a broad license that covers the entire field, or will it be tightly focused on certain types (like self-driving or high-voltage, for instance)?
Oh man. I’m not sure I’m ready to write that article.
Again we looked at the mass of data and opinions we compiled. Does the industry need oversight? Does it need standardization?
We honestly can’t say. What we do know is that diesel technicians work their behinds off each and every day to keep vehicles operating safely and efficiently. They have done this just fine, for years, without a governing body making licensure and certification demands. Do we really want to throw a wrench in that?
(Sorry. I had to do it.)
Aaron P. is fond of saying, “You can’t surge experience.” Much of any kind of job, no matter what certifications or education you receive, is going to involve learning, well, on the job. But over time, you’ll do better. You’ll work faster. You’ll get that higher wage. And you can do that without a certification.
Hard work does pay off.
So keep at it, diesel techs. We’ll keep working on that list anyway. After all, it never hurts to be prepared!