Deborah Lockridge

Deborah Lockridge

If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

It may be a trite cliche, but it’s very relevant to the issue of finding enough young people to be drivers and technicians in the future.

Time after time, whether we’re talking about filling trucks or shops, we hear that today’s young people just don’t see these occupations as attractive career options, that their parents and guidance counselors are pushing them toward college, even if kids aren’t really cut out for it.

You may throw up your hands and wonder what possible impact you could have on the situation.

At last month’s meeting of the ATA’s Technology & Maintenance Council, attendees packed a large ballroom for a panel discussion on the technician shortage.

The message in large part was that trucking needs to do more to get the technicians of tomorrow educated and into truck shops.

George Arrants with Wheeltime noted that the Department of Labor projects that between 2014 and 2024, 76,900 bus and truck mechanics and diesel engine specialists will be needed for both growth and replacement.

“If you’re looking for experienced techs, that number is telling us they don’t exist,” Arrants said. “Stop looking for them.”

However, he said, looking at private and public schools, “We graduate 10,738 medium and heavy truck technicians every year in this country. Where are they going?”

There are three reasons these technicians aren’t ending up in our shops, he said:

1. These schools aren’t teaching what our industry needs. “And this is our fault,” he said. “If you’re not involved with your local schools, you’re part of the problem.”

2. We expect these graduates to be productive on the first day. That’s unrealistic, Arrants said. “We need to mentor this generation.”

3. Someone else is stealing them from us. Arrants contends we need to get schools to stop marketing these programs as “diesel technicians” and focus on medium/heavy trucks. “Industries like wind [power] generation are grabbing our technicians,” he said.

In short, he asked, “Do we have a technician shortage, or are we not taking care of the resources we are provided?”

Also on the panel was Kenneth Calhoun of Truck Centers of Arkansas. He recently spoke to two classes of eighth graders as part of a program called Career Connect, a joint effort with the North Little Rock school district and the local Chamber of Commerce. When he gave them a salary range (that happened to be that of technicians) and asked them what kind of careers they thought could earn that kind of money, the answers were doctor, lawyer, engineer.

“There is no concept that there are such lucrative opportunities in our world,” said Calhoun.

Much the same can be said of getting young people into driving and other trucking-industry jobs. We need to get involved in local schools. Sponsor a shop program. Bring trucks to driver’s ed classes to teach about blind spots. Reach out to elementary schools, to Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Offer to bring a truck or have them tour your shop. Encourage drivers to join the Trucker Buddy pen-pal program with elementary school students. Get involved with — or start — a local “touch a truck” charity event.

Much is made these days of getting kids interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). But why should these areas have to be limited to college careers? There’s plenty of STEM involved in spec’ing and maintaining equipment.

Trucking should take advantage of this and expose students to the engines and technology used in today’s trucks. Maybe some of these students will grow up to be engineers who design new engines. And maybe some will grow up to work on them.

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