Bridging the Technician Skills Gap

While the technician shortage isn’t going away, the skills gap can be alleviated.

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. Partnerships between truck services companies 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. And right now, the working tech’s knowledge is spread too thinly over the tasks in need of his or her attention.

The Tech Numbers Aren't There

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 percent. 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: By 2024, an additional 75,000 new diesel technicians will be needed to address the growing demand for heavy-duty trucking, on top of the 67,000 techs already needed by then to replace retiring technicians. As the coronavirus heightens demand for e-commerce and as companies look to bring supply chains closer to the United States, the growth in demand for freight — and therefore in the need for techs — will follow suit.
  • The Silver Tsunami: About half of the heavy-duty truck techs working today — some 110,000 — will retire by 2030. With their retirement, their institutional and technical knowledge is at risk of obscurity. In particular, the manual know-how that is the mechanic’s right-hand would become a lost art.
  • Retention Issues: By 2030, the trucking industry will need 200,000 new technicians to meet current truck maintenance demands. According to the American Trucking Association (ATA), U.S. technical schools are only turning out about 3,500 diesel technicians each year. However, 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.

But The Costs Are

The shortage in skilled heavy duty trucking technicians contributes to significant lost value across the industry as well as for individual fleets. Expectations for shortened delivery times grow with the surge in e-commerce demand, and the technician shortage will only continue to exacerbate late delivery penalties. Truck services companies 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 the average truck services provider, averaging out to $300,000 in lost revenue per open tech position each year.

The Generational / Knowledge Gap

The tech shortage, and the rising maintenance and operational costs attributable to it, may be more accurately 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, will retire and leave a gaping skills gap in meeting repair needs. With the growing demand for and transition to alternative vehicles and fuels, truck services companies will bear the brunt of an older generation retiring without passing on their institutional knowledge and also being torn in a new direction by alternatives, all in the manner of a few years.

Technicians entering trucking repair shops for the first time today are not as acquainted with working on heavy duty trucks manually. For example, these younger technicians, who may not have covered how to approach older diesel truck models very extensively in technical school, are without the necessary intuition when it comes time to fix up 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 younger generation of techs unaccustomed to working with their hands and complete routine work orders at the same time is a tough balancing act. 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. It’s a bind with few quick fixes.

Paving the Way for Future Techs

Hard-won and extraordinarily valuable as it is, the elbows-deep-in-grease diesel tech does not have the same claim over the future of technician work as it once did. Younger 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 50-60 percent 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. Digital solutions like Uptale’s Industrial AI codify thousands of years of institutional and technical heavy duty trucking tech knowledge, as well as expertise on emerging technologies like CNG and EV vehicles, to deliver more precise analytics on vehicle health for fleets.

Uptake adds proof points to the best tech 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 and precise insights of tech knowledge, steeped in years of experience.

Here are a few ways fleets are already benefiting from Uptake’s AI 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 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 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.

See what Uptake can do for your fleet