|The root cause of the technician shortage|
It’s a complex national problem with a local solution.
Conference after conference and meeting after meeting for the last few years, the subject of a technician shortage has been a main topic of discussion. It seems everyone expects the associations, councils, manufacturers and/or suppliers to provide the solution to finding technicians. In the end, everyone leaves the gatherings with little or no call to action or solution.
Is there a solution? More importantly, is there a problem? If there is, what is the real problem, how do we solve it and, above all, who is responsible for the resolution?
Every two years, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) posts the number of people in each occupation – by a six digit code, and forecasts out 10 years the projected job growth (new positions created) and total growth and replacement. The last report, for 2014, was published in December 2015.
Per the DOL statistics, there were 263,900 truck technicians in 2014. The projected growth in 2024 is 295,500, for an increase in new positions of 31,600. In the same period, the total growth and replacement is 76,900.
Doing the math, we have a replacement need of 45,300. That means nearly 59 percent of our total need for truck technicians is replacement.
This data supports most companies’ and people’s belief that we have a shortage. But more information is needed to determine our real shortage. We must look to the schools that teach the skills needed for the occupation of truck technician and ascertain how many students they graduate each year.
By looking only at those schools – both private and public – that teach at the post-secondary (after high school) level, we can determine the shortage and then allocate resources to resolve the problem.
It has been determined that public community colleges and institutions that have truck technician curriculum graduate about 5,080 students each year, and private for-profit and non-profit graduate about 5,658, for a total of 10,738. When you do the math, it does not seem like there is a shortage, or does it?
In a recent survey by the Technology & Maintenance Council to determine the skills employers require in an entry-level truck technician, this question was asked: Which statement best descripts your situation: Do you have a shortage of applicants, or do you have a shortage of qualified applicants?
More than 80 percent of survey respondents said they have a shortage of qualified applicants. Knowing that, the DOL data and the graduate information, we can now validate that the real issue is not a shortage of technicians, but a scarcity of qualified technicians.
Searching for and recruiting experienced technicians will become increasingly difficult and may be impossible. Experienced technicians are at a minimum. You might think about developing your own future workforce.
Issues to Address
There are multiple factors that created a shortage of qualified technicians. No single group is to blame. Here are some of the major concerns that need to be addressed.
- What education is teaching must not be what industry needs.
That is as much industry’s fault as it is education’s fault. If industry isn’t involved with technician programs in their community and/or schools at a state or national level through advisory committees or other functions, then how can educators know what the industry needs?
If educators were actively involved with our industry, and were asking what we need, then educators would know what is expected.
This is where everyone needs to be involved. No one should be sitting on the sidelines expecting others to do this for them. Get engaged. If you’re not involved, you have no right to complain or voice your concerns.
- Some employers expect entry-level technicians to be productive on their first day on the job. The expectation of entry-level technicians is sometimes too high and unrealistic. Were you productive on your first day on the job or even the first week? No. So why would you expect someone else to be?
Unrealistic expectations for technicians and other employees in your organization is driving quality people away from our industry. If you have a high turnover rate in any of your locations or organization, realize that it’s mostly likely not due to pay. Rather, it’s due to how they are treated, the work environment and lack of recognition.
Do you treat your employee’s like your children or your grandchildren? This generation is different from Baby Boomers, and we have to learn how to positively engage them.
- There are other industries taking our technician graduates. We are lucky to have programs across the country that train in the area of our needs. Plus, we can recruit from automotive programs that have similar skills sets.
There are other industries that don’t have training programs in schools. These industries have high demand and high-wage positions, but don’t have the pipeline we have to create entry-level technicians. They look for programs or occupations that have similar skill sets and recruit from those programs and schools.
This is truly our industry’s fault. Students come to these programs and schools looking for a career path as a truck technician. Because we may not be as involved in these programs as we should be, these students find a different pathway and we lose them forever.
The industry’s shortage of qualified entry-level technicians is a national problem with a local solution. We need to come together to fix it. Get involved, now.
By George Arrants