Are You Prepared For a Tech Shortage?

July 23, 2013

We’ve all read the present-day laments and dire predictions about a lack of skilled workers in the equipment field—do you have measures in place to recruit, train and retain technicians for your fleet?

“We see a shortage of technicians coming,” says Michael Brennan, CEM, fleet manager for Manatee County, Fla., a two-time Fleet Master. “There are tech schools and there are some kids coming out that get into the field, but the industry demand is going to be greater than the availability of these techs. Right now there’s not a big interest in the younger people today to get into our field.”

When you add the thinly populated pipeline of young talent to the continued recovery and predictions of growth, you see only part of the problem. People are also leaving the industry faster than they can be replaced.

In the government arena alone, Brennan points out that 30 percent of the work force is going to retire in the next five years. It’s not hard to look at the graybeards in your own shop and come up with a number that’s closer to home. Think about the years of knowledge that may soon walk out your door.

“So where do we get those replacements?” Brennan asks. “You’ve got to have a succession plan and you’ve got to be able to grow your own.”

Manatee County’s strategy includes talking with local technical schools, engaging in continuous, targeted training, and establishing individual career paths.

Brennan works with local vocational tech schools to establish open communication with potential candidates. Once an applicant is accepted and joins the team, other than bringing their own hand tools, Manatee supplies them with all the necessary specialty tools and materials they’ll need, including a laptop. Brennan wants technicians who are as computer literate and adept at reading diagnostics as they are turning a wrench.

“With the technologies on the new vehicles and equipment, just being able to change oil and do brakes isn’t going to cut it,” he says.

The county’s training and continuing education process never stops. “We will train technicians for the long run,” Brennan says. “We try to send everybody to at least 40 hours a year for technical training in specific areas that are needed.”

Fleet Services conducted a comprehensive training needs assessment in 2010 to find those areas.

“We sat all our techs down and for four hours they took a series of tests,” Brennan says. “It took three days to get everybody through it. Brakes, hydraulics, engine, electrical, we had eight industry areas that we tested them on so we could develop a program unique to each technician. Some guys are very strong in electrical, some are not. Some are strong in engine performance and some aren’t, so you see where the gaps are and you get training for the people to level the playing field. We want our guys to be able to fix everything; part of that process is cross-training.”

In addition to training, identifying a career path goes a long way toward retaining the right people.

“You’ve got to tell the young guys that come out of those vo-techs and start here as apprentices the technical capabilities, certifications, and education that they’ll need to go from that apprenticeship on the floor to sitting here in my position,” Brennan says.

“They need to know that it’s going to take 10 years to get to a certain level because they need this much education and this much experience on the job. We say that right up front so they can create their own career path right when they get here. That’s important for kids these days—they’ve got to know where they’re going.”

Finally, technicians have to fit Fleet Services’ mantra of intensive preventive maintenance and fixing only what needs fixing.

“When we bring somebody on, they have to be technically competent to do the job and trainable, but we also look to see if they’ll fit,” Brennan says. “Our program isn’t for everybody. We have a very robust preventive maintenance program.”

Manatee’s technicians have to be comfortable with the level of detail required for their job, such as filling out PM forms for every vehicle upon every inspection, as well as the measurements they’re held to, like the minimum 92-percent uptime availability for every piece in the fleet.

“We’ve hired guys from OEM dealers, truck and automotive dealers, and some of them just aren’t comfortable with our type of program,” Brennan says. “We’re not here to move parts. Some guys have trouble with that because they want to sell. ‘Oh, this is leaking, we’ve got to fix that,’ they say. No, actually it’s fine, some components are naturally going to seep.

“If you’re putting a water pump in on an over-the-road truck or a dump truck, you don’t need to replace the water pump, the radiator and everything all the way through, just the necessary components to maintain operational serviceability and reliability” he says.

“We’re not here to over maintain—we’re here to reduce our risk,” Brennan explains. “That’s our liability risk due to accident by maintaining a safe, efficient fleet, and our financial risk due to excessive repairs. Those are the two things we do here.”

And prepare for the future.

Read more about Manatee County here.

About the Author

Frank Raczon

Raczon’s writing career spans nearly 25 years, including magazine publishing and public relations work with some of the industry’s major equipment manufacturers. He has won numerous awards in his career, including nods from the Construction Writers Association, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, and BtoB magazine. He is responsible for the magazine's Buying Files.