“The diesel industry is ten years behind.”
It’s a mantra we’ve heard and discussed occasionally in this blog. Ten isn’t an absolute number, though it’s the most common one bandied about; we’ve also heard five years, which is better than ten (although not as great as “totally current”).
The point is, just about everyone acknowledges commercial diesel repair is behind in some respects—particularly when it comes to adopting and using newer technologies.
Needless to say, we were curious. Is technological aversion a problem amongst technicians? If so, what can the industry do about it?
We gathered some of our favorite experts to chat about the situation:
- Ashley Sowell of Integrity Fleet Services
- Jay Goninen of WrenchWay
- Aaron Picozzi of American Diesel Training Centers
- Matt Bean of HeavyTechs
- Jimmy Wall of Donahue Truck Centers
What follows is a discussion around advancing technology within the industry, why some people get jittery around it, and how to help your techs and other employees adapt to changing tech in the commercial diesel workplace.
THE INEVITABLE GENERATIONAL QUESTION
When thinking about who gets nervous around technology, you might be tempted to side-eye the older generation—the boomers and maybe the elder Gen-Xers, who spent a good portion of their lives without fancy gee-whiz gadgets like smartphones and smart fridges and neopets. But we’ll be upfront about things: while, yes, there is something of a generational line around technology, our experts report seeing younger folks wrinkling their noses at fancy new tech, too.
Sorry, fellow millennials. Just grab the avocado toast and keep reading.
THE TRADITIONAL MECHANIC MINDSET VS. ADVANCING TECHNOLOGY
Why might a tech not be interested in new technologies—especially new technologies that could make their lives easier?
When we posed this question to Jay, he reminded us not to put all techs in one bucket. But with that said, back in the old days—even before the 1990s!—when diesel repair was a little less computerized, the diesel mechanic had a sort of mythology built up around them. They were seen as outdoor guys, maybe hunting or fishing on their days off. They were darn good at what they did.
In the old days, a tech could just start opening up an engine, rooting around, and making repairs. In today’s world, many repairs start with electronic diagnostics, before a tech gets to crack open the hood of a semi truck.
That seems to be where a lot of the problems start.
To hear Ashley describe it, there may be something instinctive in how a technician works. Her husband is a tech, and he describes his brain as a gear: “The way I think is, ‘This is how it connects. This is how it works.’”
She describes his view of “people that are good with technology” as thinking more in terms of policies, processes, and steps. “It’s different,” she concluded.
Jay concurs: “If technicians are really good on the mechanical aspect of things, they can tend to favor the stuff they’re comfortable with,” he says.
But computers and electronics have changed everything. Just about every industry in the world has seen significant changes over the last couple of decades, all of them thanks to computers, the internet, and the associated upgrades (and aggravations) they bring. Fancy new advancements might ostensibly make life easier in the long run, but all the tech sees is something new that they have to learn and get used to using.
So here’s a question for ya: what makes a tech tick?
Matt Bean of HeavyTechs describes heavy equipment mechanics as people who absolutely get a “dopamine hit” by taking something apart and putting it back together again. The satisfaction and sense of pleasure for techs came from the actual physical fix—handling actual, tangible objects. “Repairing things is very satisfying to them,” Matt told us. “They can see it and they can feel it.”
With that said, when we tracked down Matt for this article, he remarked that he had a different sort of technology issue with his techs: they won’t use email!
“They do Snapchat and Instagram and all that stuff, but man … they don’t even check their email. They just use it to log in to websites. Maybe they get overwhelmed because there’s 800 emails in their inbox.”
(I can sympathize. Whenever I open my email I feel nauseated and immediately close it out.)
Maybe that’s part of it. A technician or mechanic already likes fixing and tinkering. There’s a lot of “just knowing” that goes along with the job. When you throw in technology—particularly rapidly advancing technology of the twenty-first century that just seems to be a lot of buttons and screens—you’re effectively setting up, in their eyes, some kind of barrier to them just doing that job.
Jimmy comments, “I think it’s mostly the change.” For many techs, it is likely less of the technology itself and more of just the shifting process and time needed to learn the new process that makes them cringe.
Would you like to know more?
We’ve got more information and some helpful strategies to share—but this article is already on the long side, so we’re pausing it here. Go on, grab a beverage or a snack, or maybe get some work done. We’ll get part II up shortly!