George Hopkins says one reason he left an 18-year career as a fleet technician was the pay.

George Hopkins says one reason he left an 18-year career as a fleet technician was the pay.

Photo courtesy George Hopkins

The driver shortage finally got so bad that over the past year, fleets have raised pay by largely unprecedented levels. And if third-quarter turnover figures from the American Trucking Associations are any indication, it seems to be working. But what about technicians?

For our January cover story in Heavy Duty Trucking, I explored the question of how fleets are working to develop the next generation of technicians, working with not only vo-tech schools, but also high schools and even middle schools, developing apprenticeship programs, improving training, etc.

But based on the comments we’re getting so far, one factor that may need some more attention is pay.

George Hopkins, a technician at Dependable Diesel in Akron, Ohio, says pay is one of the reasons that last fall he left an 18-year career with a local fleet. Before that he was a technician, an owner-operator/small fleet owner, and dispatcher, so he’s got a pretty good perspective on the industry.

Hopkins, whose father was a top automotive technician specializing in diagnostics, told me he enjoys the challenge of being a technician. His LinkedIn profile says he “specializes in problem solving."

“You must be able to figure out how things work,” he told me in an email. “You must be an electrician, computer technician, know fuels and lubrications, metallurgy, hydraulics – a wide array of skills are needed.”

When I asked about the downsides, however, he said, “The pay has always been the downside.” If fleets want to attract technicians, he said, “Everyone in the business is going to have to pay good techs in order to keep them…. and then invest in educating them in an ever-changing industry.”

In fact, he said, it’s one of the biggest mistakes fleets make when trying to attract and retain technicians. “Offering low pay – equal to or less than a dispatcher who isn’t considered skilled labor in a technicians world. The knowledge and years it takes to become a good technician are not easily duplicated.”

How Much Do Diesel Technicians Make?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2017, the median pay for diesel technicians/mechanics was $46,360. How does that compare to other skilled trades jobs? Well, the BLS shows plumbers at $52,590 per year and electricians at $54,000. Truck driver? $42,480.

A quick look at ZipRecruiter’s top 50 highest-paying diesel mechanic jobs showed a range from $38,000 in Knoxville, Tennessee, to over $49,000 in San Jose, California, with a national average of $45,796/year, the majority between $38,500 and $52,000.

According to the Census Bureau, the median household income in the U.S. is $57,617.

Hopkins wonders why a young person would want to work in a profession where the pay is low, the cost of tools is a significant investment, “and the trucks are becoming more complex each year, requiring constant schooling, tooling and commitment,” he said.

“Some foreign countries treat a technician at the same level as a doctor. Diagnosing and making mechanical things work once they have failed is truly a skill. I expect the shortage of skilled technicians to dwarf the driver shortage the industry has experienced in the next five years.”

About the author
Deborah Lockridge

Deborah Lockridge

Editor and Associate Publisher

Reporting on trucking since 1990, Deborah is known for her award-winning magazine editorials and in-depth features on diverse issues, from the driver shortage to maintenance to rapidly changing technology.

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