Bridging the Diesel Technician Shortage

You’ve probably heard there’s a heavy duty trucking technician shortage.

On a number of fronts, the outlook for staffing repair shops is grim. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there will be 28,000 net new openings for diesel service technicians and mechanics each year, for the next decade. In its most recent annual report, he American Trucking Research Institute (ATRI) listed technician staffing as a critical challenge for the industry.

Partnerships between trucking fleets and technical schools, or government agencies and post-secondary institutions, or trucking companies and diesel tech service shops, or all of the above and repair showcase competitions, aspire towards a pipeline that will shore up the tech shortage with new talent.

Until those efforts produce new skilled techs in adequate numbers, the fact of the tech shortage remains. For their challenges, fleets have a lot going for them. It begins with leveraging the experts they already have.

The Tech Numbers Aren't There

But first, the challenges. From 2014 to 2024, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected that the demand for diesel service technicians and mechanics will have grown by 12 percent, outpacing overall employment growth of 6.5%. Higher demand for heavy duty trucking, a wave of retiring techs, and a retention problem of new techs are jointly contributing to an ever-widening tech shortage.

  • High demand for heavy duty trucking: As freight tonnage ballooned over the course of the pandemic, with heightened commerce demand and reshoring initiatives underway, the need for techs has followed suit. The American Trucking Association (ATA) estimates freight volume will increase by 30% in the next decade.
  • The Silver Tsunami: About half of the heavy-duty truck techs working today — some 110,000 — will retire by 2030. With their retirement, their expertise is at risk.
  • Recruits needed: According to the American Trucking Association (ATA), U.S. technical schools are only turning out about 3,500 diesel technicians each year. Community colleges and larger fleets have collaborated on training programs for entry-level technicians, but the need for more is still greater.
  • Retention Issues: A survey from Automotive Service Excellence (ASE), the accrediting body for diesel technician education for high schools and post-secondary institutions, reported that 42 percent of new diesel technicians leave the field within their first two years. Many cited poor pay, job conditions, and lacking opportunities for professional development as reasons for leaving the industry.
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But The Costs Are

The shortage in skilled heavy duty trucking technicians contributes to significant lost value across the industry.

Consumer expectations for short delivery times have grown along with the surge in e-commerce demand. With for-hire carriers, the technician shortage will only continue to exacerbate late delivery penalties. Private fleets put customer satisfaction at risk with late deliveries. On average, carriers are losing up to $1,200 per day in lost revenue with each technician position that is left unfilled.

Over the course of a year, that lost value compounds. The shortage of diesel technicians costs the trucking industry $2.4 billion annually in revenue across extended downtime, truck underperformance, and customer service issues. That daily lost revenue because of unfilled technician positions amounts to $6 million in losses each year for a maintenance services provider, averaging out to $300,000 in lost revenue per open tech position each year.

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The Knowledge Gap

The tech shortage, and the rising maintenance costs attributable to it, may also be described as a generational or knowledge gap.

For all the bluster of the numbers, repair shops face the simple possibility that the older generation of technicians, who have built up decades of experience and know-how, will retire and leave a gaping skills gap in meeting repair needs.

With the growing demand for and transition to alternative vehicles and fuels, fleets will bear the brunt of brain drain and fleet electrification, and the resulting change in maintenance practices.

Technicians entering trucking repair shops for the first time today are not as acquainted with working on heavy duty trucks manually. For example, new technicians, who may not have covered how to approach older diesel truck models very extensively in technical school, may lack the necessary intuition when it comes time to fixing a truck without an aftertreatment system. Diesel engines are simply too costly for an inexperienced technician to test his or her hand without guidance, tying up tech efficiency and training as shops bring new techs onboard.

How to best cater to a new generation of techs and complete routine work orders at the same time is a tough balance to strike. Looking over their shoulder to double check diagnostics can throw tech efficiency by the wayside, but future tech efficiency is jeopardized by casting off training.

Fleets have data to detect issues before they result in failure.
Fleets have data to detect issues before they result in failure.

Paving the Way for Future Techs

New techs are more likely to prefer an app or computer interface that surfaces diagnostics, troubleshooting codes, or different engine tests. And the adoption of alternative vehicles so reliant on proprietary software will only accelerate this transition to digitized tech work.

The portion of days spent on the computer will increase as the wave of retirements, tech shortage, and alternatives coalesce as one broader trend toward non-manual tech work.

The loss of manual knowledge can be spared. Years of experience do not also need to retire with the 100,000+ heavy trucking techs within ten years. And digital knowledge does not need to be in the exclusive domain of the younger generation of techs.

Technician Productivity with Uptake Fleet

Digital solutions like Uptake Fleet codify thousands of years of institutional and technical heavy duty trucking tech knowledge, as well as expertise on emerging technologies like CNG vehicles, to deliver more precise analytics on vehicle health for fleets.

Uptake adds proof points to technician knowledge by taking high-quality data and running it through ASE World Class Technician-vetted data science models to deliver component-level insights.

That way, techs and reliability managers can make proactive decisions on maintenance and training with a single reliable source of truth. In a simple dashboard, Uptake users gain the powerful insights of technician knowledge in seconds, steeped in years of experience.

Uptake Fleet
Uptake Fleet

Here are a few ways fleets are already benefiting from Uptake to address their tech shortage and training initiatives at the same time:

  • Reduced diagnostic time, increased tech efficiency

  • Sufficient lead times on pending failures to advance shop preparedness, ensuring the shop has the right skills and parts at the right time

  • Intuition matching for learning techs of tell-tale signs of certain failures and Uptake’s alerts that correspond to them

  • Efficiency in new tech training flattens the learning curve

  • Surfaced insights in simple dashboard clarifies truck health with component-level precision

Iterative data science models on diesel engines and emerging alternatives digitize expert knowledge.

Bridging the Technician Gap

While the tech shortage isn’t going to go away, the skills gap can be alleviated. Repair shops can achieve their twin goals of ordinary repairs and teaching a new generation of techs. Using Uptake Fleet would remove the need for adding 17,000 new techs by 2024, saving an average-sized truck services company $700,000 each year due to tech understaffing.

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