These are the voyages of the repair shop software FULLBAY.
Our continuing mission: to explore diesel-related topics.
To seek out answers to questions and make the heavy-duty galaxy safer for all.
To boldly go where no repair shop software has gone before!
How do you like our new opening narration? Will it fit on the landing page?
(Editor’s Note: Keep trying, Suz. Just don’t get us sued.)
This fun new spiel does relate to the subject—or more specifically the question—at hand, which is, Where are we going to find the next generation of diesel techs?
(Yeah, the header makes more sense now, right?)
The tech shortage continues to influence just about every part of the heavy-duty repair industry. The harder they are to get, the more shops have to work on luring them in—higher salaries, more interesting benefits, career pathing, and so on.
But there’s still a much higher demand than supply. And we still aren’t entirely sure how we’re going to augment that supply.
To help us answer these questions (and come up with others), we sat down with our friend Jay Goninen, President of WrenchWay and ardent supporter of diesel technicians everywhere.
WHAT IS CAUSING THE TECH SHORTAGE?
The shortage itself boils down to simple math: there’s just not enough people to fill open positions.
“The baby boomers are retiring,” Jay explained, “which is leaving a void—not just in physical work, but in brainpower that is just gone.”
And while the boomer departure is a big deal, there are other, non-age-related reasons techs leave the field. A few of them include:
- Salaries not keeping pace with the cost of living (this is slowly changing due to the shortage, but they still haven’t fully caught up in some areas).
- Inflexible hours that don’t allow techs enough time with their families—compounded by work that can be pretty hard on the body.
- A general, decades-long push away from the trades that has left entire generations unaware that diesel tech is a viable career…oh, and the whole push against diesel in general.
There are other factors, of course, but those are the three biggies our various guest stars bring up. There is not, unfortunately, a magic bullet that will solve the shortage on its own—the industry is going to have to take a multi-pronged approach.
IS AI GOING TO SOLVE THE TECH SHORTAGE?
Yes, as expected, we’re taking a hard left turn into sci-fi. Not because we think artificial intelligence is going to take over repair work (although T-1000 would look pretty cool clutching a wrench), but because by now a lot of you have probably heard all the doom and gloom around ChatGPT and other AI programs decimating millions of white-collar jobs, including programming, HR, marketing, writing in general, and more.
Whenever groups of the affected gather online, they muse over where they might find other work. The trades inevitably come up. And hey, there’s that diesel tech shortage. Maybe these white-collar workers will find new life in a heavy-duty repair shop?
“I do think there’s something there…but I don’t know if it’s the skill set we’re looking for,” Jay said in response to my rather long-winded (and partially fear-influenced) question. “Even a highly educated person in a white-collar role might not have the chops to hang in a diesel shop.”
He acknowledged there might well be outliers. And look, if millions and millions of people are suddenly looking for new jobs, at least a handful will make decent diesel techs after some training—that’s just numbers. But the field should not be counting on an AI-driven exodus to beef up the ranks—not when there are other trades that are a) easier to get into and better-paid, and b) don’t require the upfront investment in tools.
SO…WHERE ARE WE GONNA FIND NEW TECHNICIANS?
At the moment, the Great Tech Search tends to fall on the shoulders of owners or managers. And the deck is somewhat stacked against a lot of them.
Build relationships with schools & communities. We know, we know—the diesel industry (and every other trade) has suffered thanks to that whole “Go to a Four-Year College!” campaign that has roared through the country for decades. That, perhaps compounded by changes in education, have led to many schools jettisoning shop class and other extracurriculars that used to at least introduce students to the trades.
But these kids are going to be the technicians of the future—or they have the potential to be. So you’ve got to at least let them know “diesel mechanic” is a thing. Talk to the schools in your area. Some may still have shop class, which provides a pretty easy “in.” Others may work with you to create an apprenticeship program that interested students can take for credit. You may also be interested in learning more about the laws around employing people under 18—WrenchWay does have a recent podcast covering this, so give it a listen.
Bring a similar spirit to your community at large. Maybe you work with other business owners to throw a quarterly or monthly block party. Maybe you sponsor local sports teams. You’re getting your shop’s name out there and making people aware that diesel is a thing.
Find a WrenchWay local chapter. For several years, WrenchWay has been the bridge between shops and technicians. Their Local Chapters initiative is currently operating in 13 cities and connects schools, diesel techs, repair shops, and other industry professionals. The folks at WrenchWay are the best at what they do, so if you’ve got a chapter near you, hit them up—they can help you forge those links with schools.
Spend time on your hiring pipeline. “We [as an industry] are prone to sitting on our hands and waiting until we’re in a desperate spot, and then posting an Indeed ad and praying that we get an applicant,” Jay told us. “Often we come back very disappointed.”
This is especially a problem in rural areas, where finding techs can get…well…painful.
Spend some time thinking about your shop’s future. Run scenarios through your minds. What are you going to do if Boomer Bob retires, or if the shop down the street poaches your best senior tech? (The answer is not “Heghlu’meH QaQ jajvam” or “Today is a good day to die” FOR KLINGON HONOR DEMANDS VENGEANCE!)
Err…we mean…get ahead of the problem by building out a technician pipeline.
HOW CAN YOU HANG ON TO THE TECHS YOU’VE GOT?
If we write anything about the tech shortage, Diesel Law compels us to offer advice on keeping the technicians you already have.
(Editor’s Note: She is making that up, but I’ll allow it.)
Look at what you offer. We have written pretty extensively about shops experimenting with flexible hours, maintaining an awesome culture, and building morale. Are you nodding along as you read those words, or do perks like that seem out of reach?
Here’s the truth of the matter: a good tech can find a job anywhere. If they don’t like your shop, they’ll be gone in a heartbeat. It’s like that all over the country. So yeah, if you’ve been losing employees left and right (or are afraid that you might), it’s time to take a hard look at your own operation.
Instead of, “They’re stealing from me!” it becomes, “Why am I so easy to steal from?”
“If you’re extremely worried about other people taking your people, you’re focused on the wrong thing,” Jay said. “You should be focused on making your business so good that they don’t want to leave.”
Hey, we know it’s tough out there. Everything is more expensive, from zerks to rent to health insurance and everything in between. But you’ve got to find out where you can make your shop stand out from the rest. Look at what you’re paying. Look at your benefits. See where you can improve. Maybe help younger techs obtain training and certifications so they can bring more value to your shop and themselves.
Lastly…maybe retirement doesn’t have to mean goodbye. Maybe Boomer Bob is willing to work 20 hours a week or so to help out with newer and younger techs—training them, or checking their work. Training is going to be huge as we bring up the next generation of techs, and usually, when older techs leave, they take all their knowledge with them (unless you keep their brain in a jar, which…well…wait, that’s kind of messed up, and also—wrong franchise). Maintain that knowledge! Pass it on to the next cohort!
SET A COURSE FOR THE NEXT GENERATION
The times they are a-changin’…but the diesel industry is still going to need technicians. We’re going to boldly go find those techs, because, well, the supply chain is going to completely collapse if the trucking industry goes, so really, a strong force of technicians is to everybody’s benefit.
A lot of younger people just don’t know that diesel is a viable career. And not to mix our franchises, but knowing is half the battle. The next generation of techs is going to emerge from the ranks of Gen-Z and Generation Alpha—so get out there and make it so.