Under the Hood: Unraveling the Diesel Technician Shortage

Under the Hood: Unraveling the Diesel Technician Shortage

Natalie Johnson

Posted 11/8/23

The magnitude of the diesel technician shortage in the United States is creating significant challenges for the transportation industry. With an estimated 80,000 job vacancies and an expected additional 28,000 openings each year until 2030, the gap between supply and demand is widening at an alarming rate. To combat this shortage, efforts are being made to encourage students to pursue a career as a diesel technician, with innovative initiatives aimed at piquing their interest.

Shops and maintenance terminals rely on skilled technicians to keep their vehicles running, the recent shortage has created extra downtime and added to the work order backlog. At the same time the demand for technicians is increasing, vehicle subsystems are becoming increasingly complex. The level of distributed electronics and sensors in vehicles is further exacerbating the shortage as a technician’s job description seems to be ever evolving.

In Fullybay’s 2022 State of the Heavy-Duty Repair Industry Report, over half of respondents in a survey identified hiring technicians as their main operational challenge, while 65% reported hiring techs is “difficult.” The pandemic led to many technicians changing careers or retiring early, with 2020 marking the first year the Department of Labor reported a decline in the number of employed diesel technicians. 

diesel technician shortage chart department of labor
Image Courtesy Diesel Laptops

diesel technician employment by year
Image Courtesy Diesel Laptops

Technical colleges and other programs only produce 10,000 technicians annually, a number far too short to address the fleeting workforce. Recently, some companies have turned to technology to engage the community and encourage grade school students to consider a career in diesel mechanics. 

The American Trucking Associations’ Technology & Maintenance Council launched a mobile app aimed at engaging middle and high school students with virtual truck diagnosis and repair. Players learn the basics of diagnostics through 3 games focused on tire/wheel, brake, and engine repair. Players begin as a student technician and navigate through 15 levels of play until they become the owner of their own repair shop. “Virtual compensation” allows players to upgrade their trucks or get a new paint job. Links within the game direct students to TMC and TechForce Foundation’s websites where they can learn about career, schooling, and scholarship opportunities.

“The TMC SuperTech augmented reality game lets players progress through a career from a maintenance technician to shop owner in the trucking industry.” Photo: TMC/Image Courtesy: Heavy Duty Trucking

TechForce also launched a Mobile STEM Career Center. The traveling hands-on exhibit takes students through the professional technician career path with multiple interactive activities. Indoor and outdoor displays allow students to participate in pit stop challenges, a game to match fasteners to wrenches, explore a virtual V-8 engine, learn coding, and many other activities.

“The TechForce Mobile STEM Career Center traveling exhibit takes youngsters on a hands-on discovery tour of the professional technician career path.” Photo: TechForce Foundation; Image Courtesy HDT

The gamification of a technician’s role is a captivating way to reach younger generations through technology they use everyday. In addition to these games, it is imperative teachers and school counselors educate themselves on the alternative paths students can take upon high school graduation and the current labor shortages that must be addressed. These adults have a great amount of influence and ensuring they promote STEM careers will help attract students to some careers that don’t require a four-year degree.

Additionally, the industry must make an effort to make training courses accessible by advertising scholarships and creating rapid immersion courses. Trucking companies and educational institutions are partnering to create 6 month courses, broken down into 4 six week units. The curriculum is tailored to the needs of the industry, providing the proper education and mix of resources so technicians are ready to hit the ground running once hired. Incorporating apprenticeship programs and growth paths for current and new employees will aid in retention efforts and incentivizing technicians to continue their training to adapt to new technological advancements and complete additional certifications. 

The diesel technician shortage is a pressing challenge for the transportation industry, with thousands of job vacancies and a widening gap between supply and demand. The complexities of modern vehicle subsystems, coupled with the evolving nature of a technician’s job, further exacerbate the issue. Through innovative initiatives like the American Trucking Associations’ mobile app and the TechForce Mobile STEM Career Center, students are being introduced to the exciting world of diesel mechanics. Gamifying the technician’s role has proven to be a captivating way to attract young minds to this critical field. With a concerted effort to attract a diverse workforce and adapt to technological advancements, the transportation industry is determined to navigate this shortage.

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Natalie Johnson

Natalie Johnson is the previous editor/website administrator for MaintenanceWorld.com, and is currently a student at Campbell University Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law.

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