The diesel technician shortage is a well-known concern in the trucking industry, and those within the industry said engaging and mentoring technicians can help locations find and keep techs. “There is a real shortage and a need for people to enter the industry,” said Trish Serratore, president of the Automotive Service Excellence Education Foundation. Serratore was one of several panelists who discussed the issue during the Technology & Maintenance Council’s (TMC) Fall Meeting in Orlando, Florida,
To find new hires, Serratore recommends employers get involved with tech schools. “Go there. Be on advisory committees. Go to open houses,” she said.
Glen McDonald, director of maintenance at Ozark Motor Lines and an attendee at the conference, said he has gotten involved with the Tennessee Academy of Applied Technologies. “We have gotten four young technicians out of there that are just going to be stars one day,” he said.
The ASE Education Foundation website lists 2,300 accredited programs nationwide and can help employers connect with schools. “Then it is up to them to get engaged,” Serratore said. “You have to have a plan.”
Once an individual has been hired, Serratore said a good onboarding process can result in long-term success for technicians. “There needs to be someone who is looking out for the individual and watching the work level in terms of what skills you need to have,” she said.
TravelCenters of America (TA) has created a formal mentorship program for new hires, pairing techs with a mentor for 30 to 60 days, said Homer Hogg, director technical service at Travel Centers of America and a panelist at TMC. “That mentor works with them to introduce them to the type of work we perform, the type of services that we sell, and how to perform what we call the ‘blocking and tackling’ of our business,” Hogg said. “If you can get a good mentor to help them, then you have a good shot at retaining them.”
TA has developed a structured process to find mentors. “We don’t just pick a mentor. They have to go through a process, get vetted, get trained and then get a certification,” Hogg said.
Those interested in mentoring new hires start by completing a psychological profile. “We’ve done benchmarking on trainers and others that have been successful,” Hogg said. “We have that benchmark and say, ‘Does this person have the aptitude and tendencies we need?’”
From there, mid-level managers interview the applicants to see if they’ll be good communicators and ensure their hearts are in it. Then they go through a training session to certify them as a mentor.
While actively mentoring new hires, the mentors work at a reduced pace. “That mentor is focused on helping the individual handle the basic services, working with them and working the same shift,” Hogg said. Once that initial mentorship period is over, new hires move into instructor-led training.
TA also couples advancement in pay with advancement in training. Jim Reed, vice president of truck service marketing and recruiting at TravelCenters of America, said it is vital for techs to have a career path to follow. “We have a lot of techs that started with our company and have been able to grow with our company,” Reed said.
Winston Minchew, training manager for Old Dominion Freight Line, said ongoing learning could aid in retention and said it is beneficial anytime a company puts together a process for technicians to improve themselves. Minchew moderated the panel discussion on recruiting and retaining employees at TMC.
Old Dominion, which has about 560 technicians, has developed 11 internal training courses based on the fleet’s equipment and has gotten ASE accreditation of its program. “We also use equipment manufacturers’ online training and allow manufacturers to provide training to technicians within our locations,” Minchew said. Old Dominion has also created training courses specifically for new technicians, he added. “That is designed to get them Old Dominionized prior to getting into a classroom with one of our trainers.”
Serratore said retention is critical because it is always easier to keep someone than hire a new person. Robert Braswell, executive director for TMC, applauded all of the efforts fleets are making to attract techs. “The bottom line is we need more people working on trucks,” he said.