More and more, I’m reading about how hard it is to find technicians; the interesting thing is that I’m not necessarily reading about the equipment industry. It goes a lot further than that. Virtually everyone with businesses that require whatever type of maintenance and repair as related to vehicles, equipment, aircraft and industrial machinery are in the same boat. This also means that we all face many of the same challenges: industry and technician image, industry stereotypes, a shrinking pool of those interested in service technician occupations, funding of technical college programs, aging technician demographics… and the list goes on.
To take those thoughts one step further, we compete with these other industries for technical talent; whether at the student, entry, or journeyman levels. We compete with these industries right from the beginning, looking at students potentially interested in technician careers, to get those students to choose “our industry.” We compete with them to keep our technical talent in our industry.
Let’s look at the broad competition for “technicians” for a minute. This includes both related industries, and those industries where technicians may have cross-industry transferable skills. One way to view the issue is to compare the relative size of the technician populations in each industry. From this information, “order of magnitude,” one can consider the competitive implications for recruiting technicians for our industry, starting with student awareness of the career opportunity, and continuing all the way to the issue of retention of journeyman technicians.
On the US Department of Labor’s “CareerOneStop” website, you will find the following information. It’s not inclusive of all our industry technical talent competition, and one might have debate as to what’s included in each of the “data buckets,” but the broad overall picture shown below does emerge from the data and illustrate what I am discussing in this article:
- U.S. employment of automotive service technicians
- Bus and truck mechanics and diesel engine specialists
- Mobile heavy equipment mechanics, except engines
- Automotive body and related repairers
- Aircraft mechanics and service technicians
- Industrial machinery mechanics
- Farm equipment mechanics
|Employment Category||Employment 2008||% Total||Employment 2018|
|U.S. employment of automotive service technicians||763,700||43||799,600|
|Bus and truck mechanics and diesel engine specialists||263,100||15||278,000|
|Mobile heavy equipment mechanics, except engines||136,300||8||148,100|
|Automotive body and related repairers||166,400||9||167,200|
|Aircraft mechanics and service technicians||121,500||7||129,300|
|Industrial machinery mechanics||287,700||17||308,700|
|Farm equipment mechanics||31,200||2||33,400|
Some competitive challenges the equipment industry faces based on the above information table:
- For the industries listed, mobile equipment represents at 8% a rather small segment of the demand for related industry technical talent.
- In certain cases, those industries competing with us are far larger and have far more “critical mass” and collective resources they can invest in recruiting and developing their needed technical talent.
- Our larger competitors are also talking to the technical schools about their industry needs. This includes: the types of curriculums that they need, how many students they will sponsor, how many students they will commit to hire, and ongoing levels of industry support. Program sustainable student headcounts and job placement rates are the issue for schools; whether a program does or does not exist and/or whether it’s an auto, truck, other… or diesel/equipment program. It doesn’t take a lot of research or a great leap in logic to know that the school programs will support the industries that support them.
- Larger collective resources mean that competing industries have greater capabilities to work with local technical schools to help sustain them not only in the industrys’ good times, but in the industrys’ bad times as well.
- Competing larger industries can have many more dealers in any given local market area, providing greater presence and coverage in working with local technical colleges and secondary schools as to workforce recruitment and development issues.
- Given the growing scarcity of qualified entry-level and experienced technicians, we can expect to see more and more that other larger industries are seeking to obtain (steal) technical talent from related areas such as the equipment industry.
Some equipment dealer food for thought:
- We in the equipment industry have our work cut out for us with regard to getting our fair share of potential and available technical talent, and meeting dealer demand for technicians. In other words, beating our competition involves some serious and challenging competition.
- Dealers in competing industries are putting substantial numbers of “boots on the ground” in their recruitment and workforce development efforts. If the equipment industry is to compete successfully with them, equipment dealers also need to put “boots on the ground;” dealer personnel who are specifically assigned to the task of “workforce,” including developing collective local industry efforts that can successfully beat our competition.
- Yes, we face larger industries with greater resources, but mere “numbers” and resources don’t dictate the final results of the competition. It is incumbent on the equipment industry to work smarter and better than our competitors; to use resources more efficiently. Many people have good plans in place, but many also fumble in the execution of those plans. The equipment industry can increase its competitive advantage by developing good workforce plans and showing excellence in executing those plans.
- Equipment dealers are already doing a lot of the right things in recruitment and workforce development. Many dealers already work with local schools to meet their needs. There exist excellent inter-industry connections among dealers, manufacturers and suppliers. There are local dealer groups and task forces that work collectively to meet industry challenges not only in workforce development, but in other important arenas such as public policy as well. There may be geographic areas where the “wheel needs to be created,” but in many other areas, we are talking more about ramping up efforts to meet the mutual needs of industry constituents.
- Ours is a great industry with many talented people who have a lot of ideas on addressing our industry’s workforce needs. The more the industry can get together and discuss solutions for the above, and other industry issues, the better our efforts and results will be. To that end, I encourage you to become more involved with AED and The AED Foundation, and the initiatives that both organizations are pursuing specifically for your benefit.
There is no silver bullet to the issue of dealer technician recruitment and retention, but hopefully the scenario and issues described above assist you in thinking about what you can do, and what you can control, as you approach meeting your needs for service technicians.
In closing, I’ll just pose a question for you, ”How can you be more involved in managing your own technician workforce destiny?” The AED Foundation can help you answer that question; give us a call at 800.388.0640.