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The Mechanic Shortage: An Inside Perspective

February 3, 2000

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The shortage of qualified technicians is rapidly reaching epidemic levels. Eric Bulcher, who teaches mechanics at Miami Valley Carrer Technology Center in Dayton, OH and still wields a wrench himself of weekends has his own take on the problem:
"Companies have faced this problem since the boom of the trucking industry and will continue to face it until some scientist is allowed to clone the Super Wrench that has 10 to 15 years of truck dealership experience, has had thousands of dollars of OEM training and specialized engine training, and possesses $45,000 worth of tools.
"There are a lot of mechanics that stay up to date on equipment and really care about the quality of repairs that they are providing for the customer. But that's not always the case.
"I was, and still am proud to be a truck technician but have left the everyday hard work and sore hands routine to educate young people at the vocational level.
"I will still continue to work week ends and summers at my old place of employment and some days miss it beyond belief. I try to convince my students and young people who show an interest in the repair industry the amount of knowlege that is required to be able to troubleshoot and repair the trucks of the technology age.
"I have experience working in a variety of areas and I still cannot find one that requires a combination of skills that are needed by today's technicians.

"These individuals have a lot of hats to wear. Just sit and think about all of the options on your freight hauler and all the types running up and down the road. Kenworth, Peterbilt, Freightliner, International, Volvo, Mack, heavy duty, medium duty, Cat, Cummins, Detroit, Volvo.
"Think of the clutch, transmission, driveline, differential, suspension, brake systems, climate control systems, and the most important electrical and computer systems that interface and work with one another to move this mass of technology down the road.
"Where are we going to find people to repair all of these different pieces of equipment and options when they malfunction? Can we place an ad in the paper and they will beat our doors down wanting to fill out applications? I don't think so....
"What about stealing the qualified tech's from the guy next door, or hire people back that you fired because you are so hard up, or hire some one that has never had any truck experience but owns some tools.
"We drug test drivers to ensure that highways are kept as safe as possible, but we will turn a untrained person loose on a vehicle that weighs more or less than 80,000 pounds to do a repair or service.
"What can help? We need to get smart, young, hard working people interested at a early age.
"Find a good vocational school in your area close to your place of business and get involved.
"Help them to develop a process of education that will feed your business with qualified people that you can put to work and continue to train.
"Sponsor a good student that you choose. Donate up-to-date equipment and tools needed.
"Have trainers work with vocational teachers. Get students motivated so they strive to participate in apprenticeship programs.
"Put on contests within your place of business and invite students from area schools. I can' t think of a better job interview than watching a young person put the skills they have aquired to use while you and your service manager or technicians judge the contest.
"The bottom line: Get involved with the right people. I have students placed at area repair shops. The ones working at the dealerships are overwellmed by the amount of knowledge a technician has to possess. Take care of your repair people, let them know that you appreciate them. And operators: Be patient, it's not as easy as it looks.
"If we start to work together today we might see the light at the end of the tunnel 5 years from now."
Eric Bulcher can be contacted at [email protected]

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