• The Diesel Technician Shortage Explained

    Diesel technicians are the “medical experts” of the transportation industry, diagnosing and treating the things that go wrong with commercial trucks. While there are usually more “patients” than “doctors,” the diesel technician shortage is tipping the scales further than ever before and creating a substantial problem throughout the industry. This shortage has been slowly gaining speed for a while due to a number of factors we’ll examine here in greater detail, as well as looking at employment statistics, the history of the current issues, and future trends.

    (Information referenced in this article has been compiled by our partners at American Diesel Training Centers. American Diesel Training Centers has partnered with Diesel Laptops in the effort to help drive a solution to the current diesel technician shortage crisis.) 

    Every year, the US Department of Labor releases a report with the number of active workers in each job category. There are three (3) categories relevant to the diesel industry: Bus and Truck Mechanics and Diesel Engine Specialists; Farm Equipment Mechanics and Service Technicians; Mobile Heavy Equipment Mechanics, Except Engines.

    Code

    Description

    49-3031

    Bus and Truck Mechanics and Diesel Engine Specialists

    49-3041

    Farm Equipment Mechanics and Service Technicians

    49-3042

    Mobile Heavy Equipment Mechanics, Except Engines

    2020 was the first year on record at the Department of Labor that showed a decline in the number of employed diesel technicians, most likely as a result of COVID-19. The following year, 2021, did not show a recovery to pre-pandemic levels. 

    As mentioned, at least some of this decline can be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only were a substantial number of jobs affected by the pandemic, but the US also saw a large number of workers retire early.

    Workforce is directly tied to the supply side of an industry, but what about demand? If there weren’t a vital need for as many diesel technicians as there has been in the past, the reduction in the workforce would not have such a detrimental impact. However, this isn’t the case. In fact, many repairs take longer to complete than they once did. 

    Modern trucks are increasingly more complex and with complexity comes the necessity for more maintenance. For instance, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires trucks to meet emissions standards. Manufacturers have introduced EGR, DPF, and SCR systems to reduce emissions, but each system is slightly different and each manufacturer uses different parts. As a result, commercial trucks have more failure points than ever before. It now not only takes longer to diagnose a problem, but repairing the issue is a progressively more specialized skill.

    To make matters worse, the lack of continuing education is compounding the diesel technician shortage. When new emission technology, models, or systems are introduced, often the only people with access to the necessary training to service them are dealers and major fleets. Everyone else is left to figure it out for themselves– or not.

    The Truck Maintenance Council (TMC), an organization dedicated to identifying and resolving issues that affect the entire diesel industry, recently conducted a study into commercial truck repair. In short, they found that new technology added to commercial trucks since 2004 is now the largest expense in a repair– even more expensive than servicing the engine.

    TMC also sponsored a report on the state of the heavy-duty repair industry. This study surveyed several hundred shops, asking, among other things, about their biggest challenges on an operation level.

    The number #1 problem for almost half of all repair shops surveyed?

    Hiring technicians.

    This directly correlates with the second most widespread problem: inefficiency of repairs.

    In other words, shops need the best people to do their best work.

    When asked how much more difficult it is to find diesel technicians compared to three years ago, almost 60% said it is more difficult to find good techs. And almost all of them were actively looking to hire in 2022.

    Solving the Problem

    There’s no disputing the fact that the diesel industry needs more technicians.

    …But the industry is producing less diesel technicians every year.

    Diesel Laptops’ CEO Tyler Robertson explains the situation as follows:

    “Technical colleges are producing less and less diesel technicians each year. If you look at the number of students that took loans to obtain a two-year degree in diesel repair, there is a decline in enrollment, which contributes directly to the diesel technician shortage. And yet, there’s a huge spike in the number of diesel technician job openings in the US.”

    Click here to see Robertson’s in-depth commentary:

    Summary

    • There are less diesel technicians working today compared to the same time last year.
    • Commercial trucks have become more complex, necessitating longer repair times.
    • There is a lack of training, tools, and information needed to efficiently repair commercial trucks.
    • More than half of all truck repair are actively looking for additional staff.
    • Every year less students enroll to become diesel technicians.

    In 2020, the average diesel technician salary was $52,388 (source: US Department of Labor) with the top 10% in the profession earning an average salary of $67,550. Many experienced technicians employed by dealerships earn over $100,000 a year.

    (Note that Department of Labor numbers reflect reported salary, not overtime or additional factors that can increase the total income.)

    There are only two (2) ways to solve the diesel technician shortage:

    1. Decrease demand
    2. Increase technicians

    Demand is going to decrease over time as technology continues to improve to resolve issues before they occur. Experienced remote technicians better able to diagnose, source parts, and provided guided repair plans to shops will significantly cut down on the time that is needed in a shop environment. 

    Increasing the number of technicians in the field what Diesel Training and American Diesel Training Centers have partnered to accomplish. Our goal is to make it easy and affordable for more shops to create entry-level positions where more people can learn on the job.

    Ultimately, knowledge is power. The lack of information and expertise directly influences diagnostic and repair times, affecting everyone in the diesel industry. Providing information with diagnostic tools, repair guides, and parts data is the core business of Diesel Laptops. The more you know, the more you can do– the right way. 

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    Lauren Johnson

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