Diesel Techs Retiring

By Mindy Long

This story appeared in the September 2009 print edition of Light & Medium Truck. View the version as it appeared online here. 
A good portion of diesel mechanics today are baby boomers, and with the boomers reaching retirement age between 2010 and 2030, many are predicting that a severe diesel mechanic shortage is on the horizon.
 
In 2004, the Department of Labor estimated that there were 606,000 diesel technicians, which includes bus, truck, heavy-duty and farm equipment mechanics. Labor estimates that mechanic shops will need 205,000 more diesel technicians by 2014 to fill new positions that will be created and replacement positions left when workers change fields or retire.
 
“Even though we’re in a recession, the aging workforce hasn’t stopped aging,” said George Arrants, business development manager at Cengage Learning Inc., Florence, Ky.
Tony Molla, vice president of communications for the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE), Leesburg, Va., said he doesn’t see the necessary numbers of technicians completing vocational education programs to meet the need.
 
“We’re only graduating about 35,000 technicians, total, in this country a year. That includes auto, collision and
diesel,” Molla said, and he estimated that only about 10% of those graduates are diesel and truck technicians.
“In the truck market, I think it is already too late. We’re looking at a significant shortfall,” Molla said.
Dick Fazzio, service manager for Mountain West Truck Center, a Class 4-8 truck dealership in Salt Lake City, already sees the effects of an aging population.
 
“It is always hard to find good diesel mechanics, and the reason is that people like myself are dinosaurs. The bulk of the young kids coming up today want to be gamers or computer techs. They don’t want to get dirty,” he said.
 
Wyoming Technical Institute, or WyoTech, a trade school in Laramie, Wyo., has one of the largest diesel programs in the country and graduates about 600 diesel technicians a year. Training takes nine months, and graduates leave as entry-level technicians.
 
“Some graduates will hit the ground running and will never need to shadow someone, but there are other students who need to shadow someone to learn the ropes of a particular company,” said Chad Enyeart, coordinator of the diesel and advanced diesel program at WyoTech.
 
Arrants said that many technician graduates also leave the industry. “They wash out or decide to take another trade,” he said.
 
The training graduates who continue in the work still need three to five years of experience to become a master technician.
 
“The only thing education can’t teach is experience,” Arrants said.
 
Enyeart said the current economy has slowed the number of technicians retiring but is only delaying the inevitable.
 
“When we come out of this economy, you’ll probably see 40% to 50% of technicians retiring within 18 months to two years,” he said.
 
The basic laws of supply and demand will rule when the predicted shortage hits, Arrants said.
 
“If we don’t have a large number of auto and diesel technicians, the cost of repair is going to go up,” he said