Women have a bigger role to play in trucking than they get to play, and there’s one spot in particular where I think they’re badly overlooked. The shop.
The human shortages in this business are actually many and varied, yet the only one we ever really hear about involves the steering wheel.
Whenever the HR side of trucking comes up, nobody mentions the dearth of rate clerks or salespeople, for instance. Collectively we don’t have enough young and well-educated men and women on a management track, either. There are actually gaping holes all over the place.
A close second to drivers in terms of the trouble that a shortage continues to cause are mechanics. Technicians, if you prefer. Whatever you call ’em, we don’t have enough. Which means all manner of trouble and woe in the country’s repair shops, where jobs can take much longer than they should. Or maintenance work gets delayed a bit and results in a road call with expensive downtime attached.
I know of no statistics that measure the shortage, nor any that quantify turnover rates among technicians (if they do exist, hiding under a rock somewhere, please let me know).
This isn’t a new problem, of course. Heck, the theme of the very first maintenance conference I attended as a rookie trucking journalist was “How to resolve the mechanic shortage.” And that was 1979.
Earlier this year I came across one shining example of at least a partial solution to this challenge, in the person of a young woman who exemplifies the kind of employee everyone wants, regardless of gender or position.
Vania Agostinho is a 20-something woman who’s an apprentice mechanic at Carrier Centres, a major International dealership in southern Ontario.
Every manager under the sun wants one thing above all others in a junior employee: an eagerness to learn. Add intelligence, commitment, a ready smile, and no fear of doing the tough stuff, and you should have yourself a winner.
Which is exactly how to describe Agostinho, aka Smiley. She’s as eager to learn as it gets.
“As an apprentice, let me do work and let me get my hands dirty,” she says. “Let me figure out how things work. And if I can’t do it on my own, put me with someone who has the experience, who has the knowledge, who’s able to teach me properly how to do those things.”
Asked if she likes the clean diagnostics and electronics side of the shop more than the serious wrenching work, she says it doesn’t matter.
“I don’t mind either way. I could do brakes, heavy work, and I’d be fine with that. I could do diagnostics and tear wiring harnesses apart. I wouldn’t mind. I want to do everything.”
Agostinho wants not only to see more women in the tech role, but she also wants the recruiting effort to start in high school or even elementary school. Girls should have exposure to the trade through job fairs and field trips early, she says.
“I think women are scared [to pursue a technician apprenticeship] because it’s a male-dominated industry,” she tells me. “If they knew that once you get out there, all the guys are pretty nice, they’d look into it.”
So let’s change their minds.