My 15-year-old daughter's life goal, since she was 6 years old, has been to be a pediatrician. This year, she was able to attend a National Youth Leadership Internship in Medicine.
The interns visited numerous teaching hospitals and one university. They were lectured by several well-known and respected doctors. They visited labs where they were able to examine cadavers and organs. They also were able to observe several surgeries. They practiced basic medical procedures, learned how to suture wounds, and made surgical incisions. This was all hands-on. My daughter came home more determined than ever in her goal.

The point of sharing my daughter's experience is to drive home how important it is to investigate your life's goals at an early age.

In the past five years, my company has interviewed and hired young people who have attended and graduated from some of our top technical vocational schools. Many of these young technicians have spent two to three years of their lives, and thousands of dollars, for an education in a vocation in which they have no interest. Truck repair facility owners from all over the country have reported similar experiences.

As employers of heavy truck technicians, we need to face some of the realities of the 21st century:

* Our industry is not glamorous. We need to do more to raise our people up from mechanics to technicians in the public's eye.

* We need to find a way to bring young prospective technicians, still in high school, into our organizations to help them decide if "heavy truck technician" is the vocation they want.

* We need to keep our technicians current in all the changes in truck technology, truck-related regulations and laws, and recommended procedures and practices.

* We need to support associations that can keep us, as employers, current in advancements and give us a forum to find ways to promote our industry.

* We need to be aware of the availability of training programs for our technicians.

How can we start upgrading our industry? What can we do as independent heavy truck repair specialists? Can we afford to face these problems head-on? Can we afford to ignore them?

The need is great for one large voice to provide training programs for technicians and managers. A large association could provide multiple training programs across the country.

In the meantime, there are other associations that can help. ACOFAS is the American Council of Frame and Alignment Specialists. It hosts two Technician Training Clinics every year, held in member shops across the U.S. to afford hands-on experiences in all areas of the truck. SSA is the Service Specialists Association. It offers help with management, regulations and laws, new products and marketing problems. The American Trucking Associations' Technology and Maintenance Council has an annual "SuperTech" competition aimed at raising up the profession of heavy truck technician.

Visit with the vocational teachers at your local high schools and two-year colleges. Find students who express an interest in being a truck service technician and invite them to spend some time with your technicians, and - like my daughter's medical internship - get some actual hands-on experiences.

Wishful thinking? Or a glimpse of the future?

Gordon Botts is president of Botts Welding of Woodstock, Ill. He is a spokesman for ACOFAS and is an aftermarket technician training advocate.

From the July/August 2010 issue of Heavy Duty Aftermarket Journal.