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Rush Enterprises McRoberts Rusty Rush Photo: Aaron Marsh / Fleet Owner
Rush Enterprises COO Michael McRoberts, left, and CEO, president and board chairman Rusty Rush discuss the truck technician shortage and the economic outlook for 2018 during this year's Rush Tech Skills Rodeo in San Antonio.

Evolving amid a truck technician shortage

Rush Enterprises CEO and president Rusty Rush and COO Michael McRoberts discuss the truck tech shortage, ELDs, and the economic outlook for 2018.

SAN ANTONIO. Ask Rush Enterprises COO Michael McRoberts and he’ll tell you: There is absolutely a technician shortage.

“We could probably hire about 500 technicians right now,” McRoberts said during a press conference on Tuesday ahead of this year’s Rush Enterprises Tech Skills Rodeo. “I was talking to one of my regional managers in Ohio today and asked how many you’d need tomorrow, and he says 50. That’s just Ohio. So there is absolutely a technician shortage and there’s no supply change in sight on that.”

The key, according to McRoberts, to evolving with a growing technician shortage is developing younger talent and attracting them into the industry to begin with in this tech age. Part of that includes increasing recruiting efforts within local high schools and vocational schools, he noted.

“For the first time in the history that I’ve been here we’re really accepting that we have to target the level one and level two technicians and make those investments,” McRoberts explained. “The biggest investment we’re making right now is investing in the younger techs and their development.”

Career advancement and development, pay, and training have historically been the biggest challenges in retaining technicians, McRoberts explained. And throughout the industry, keeping technicians past the first year is always hardest.

“It’s that first year where there are higher disproportions in turnover,” he noted. “If we could really be successful in enhancing our training in that first year, recruit from the right places and have good screening processes, keeping [technicians] longer goes way up.”

When asked about working to recruit women as truck techs, president, CEO and board chairman W.M. “Rusty” Rush said it’s something the company and industry as a whole should do a better job with.

“It just doesn’t lend itself historically speaking to the job description,” Rush explained. “But because the job description of a technician has changed, it should be more conducive to attracting a younger workforce with more females into that workforce.”

And with less than a week left to go before the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate goes into effect on Dec. 18, Rush mentioned he doesn’t expect the industry will see true enforcement until April. He added that it will be interesting to see how the mandate will impact smaller carriers and owner operators from a productivity perspective.

“I think it will take a full year at least really to see where it’s at because you really don’t start enforcing it off the bat – you get a warning – until April,” Rush explained. “It’ll be interesting to see how the states and the feds get this sorted out. It’s the states that have to enforce it.”

McRoberts pointed out that ELDs will continue to improve diagnostic work for technicians. For instance, he said technicians could spend an hour or more trying to find an electrical problem, but telematics are helping techs fine-tune and identify issues they wouldn’t be able to without a fault code.

When addressing the outlook for trucking in 2017 and heading into 2018, Rush told reporters he is “cautiously optimistic.”

At the start of the year, some analysts’ numbers projected Class 8 truck sales would be about 154,000-155,000 this year. However, it’s looking like those numbers will be around the 195,000-197,000-mark for U.S. retail, Rush noted.

“Obviously, this is a bump of close to 25-30% better than what people anticipated coming in,” Rush stated. “At the same time it’s been pretty broad for us from coast to coast and in between. Whether it’s on the Navistar side, the Peterbilt side, or even all of the medium-duty side, it’s been very broad based across the organization. We feel really good about where we began.”

However, Rush stressed that his cautious optimism comes into play due to winter and the holiday season.  

“I can tell you I feel as good as I usually do about this time in December,” Rush noted. “Typically, in November, December and January, February, you get a little bit nervous because you’re in the holiday time. Right now I’m cautiously optimistic about where we’re at and where we’re headed.”

Rush projected that next year will be higher from a delivery perspective from Class 8 vehicles. He added that medium-duty has been strong and should remain somewhere around where it’s been.

Heading into 2018, Rush said there isn’t anything in particular he’s worried about.

“I’ve done this long enough and you just get a little bit nervous when things are running really well,” he explained. “What I see is good. As an organization, I think it’s key that we best the market. I feel good about where we’re at as an organization regardless of where the market goes.”

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