Can Electric Trucks Finally Supply the “Cool” Factor for Technicians?
There may finally be a light at the end of the tunnel for the seemingly never-ending shortage of qualified technicians.
I’ve often written about the major problem facing fleets when it comes to recruiting technicians: a workforce that is aging out with fewer younger workers looking at this as a career. This is occurring at the same time that freight levels are at record highs and continuing to rise. This trend continues, with a November, 2021 article in Aftermarket News stating that demand for technicians nearly doubled between 2020 and 2021.
A big part of the recruitment problem has always been image; that perception of truck technician as a dirty, grease-covered job. Even though the job name has changed from diesel mechanic to diesel technician, it’s still a hard sell to generations (Millennials and Gen Z) that have grown up with a vision of software and technology jobs as the careers to pursue. To mitigate the shortage, OEMs have started partnering with trade schools; some have started their own training programs. The salaries and benefits for qualified technicians continue to rise as well. Still, the problem persists.
For those of us in the trucking industry, the “grease monkey” moniker is definitely outdated as trucks have become more complex and technologically advanced. There is still the need for traditional work on tires, brakes, transmissions, and preventive maintenance, but today’s tech toolbox is as likely to contain a laptop as it is a wrench. That being said, the job is still not regarded as a preferable choice for younger workers.
EVs may help turn the tide.
A recent Pew Research study found that when it comes to acceptance of EVs, age matters. According to the study, “Majorities of Gen Z (56%) and Millennial (57%) adults favor phasing out production of new gas-powered vehicles by 2035, compared with lower shares of Gen X (45%) and Baby Boomer and older (38%) Americans.”
Granted, this study mainly focused on vehicles for personal, not commercial use, but the attitude still is encouraging. Remember these statistics aren’t just about preferring electric vehicles; it measures the attitude of actually phasing out gas-powered vehicles completely. Perhaps then, it shouldn’t be surprising that this attitude can transfer to technician recruitment as well.
Last July, a CCJ article noted that EV tech training is “all the rage.” The article quotes Mike Roeth, executive director at the North American Council for Freight Efficiency, who was enthusiastic about the younger generations’ view of this technology. “This is because it’s cool and technically advanced,” he said. “They see electric cars and are really excited about [electric] trucks. I expected this, but not to the higher level we are experiencing. This is quite exciting, and I personally see a broader pool of employees all over.” That statement is definitely music to any fleet maintenance manager’s ears.
That broader pool will likely include women, who right now make up only 9.4 percent of truck technicians (even though, overall, women make up 46.8 percent of the entire workforce. CCJ article cites Professor John Frala, alt fuels training coordinator at Rio Hondo College in Whittier, CA, who noted that EVs are attracting more women into the training programs at the school. “The cool part about this is I’m getting more female involvement because it’s not a greasy, grimy job where they’re lifting heavy stuff. Now it’s all computer based.” Frala is getting so much interest, he’s pursuing having an all-female tech training academy, hopefully next year.”
Another factor in attracting younger workers to EVs is the ability to appeal to their concern for the environment and their desire to work in jobs that will “make a difference” in the world. The CCJ article also quotes Elizabeth Tarquinto, Marketing Manager at Ford Customer Service Division, “I think EV tech work may have a greater appeal to a non-traditional technician. With the technology involved, I see this opening up the door for more tech focused people – versus those who are mechanically inclined. Understanding computer and systems will be critical. Not sure I would expect a difference in gender, other than it may appeal to high-tech females as well as high-tech males.”
For fleets trying to fill those tech voids, the EV “cool’ factor should definitely be part of any recruitment campaign. This will take a whole new mindset for Human Resources and be an even bigger stretch for maintenance managers used to the traditional way of recruiting. It’s a tech vs. mechanic approach.
We all know that EVs are definitely in our future. How much and how soon is still up for debate, especially with the supply chain issues we are experiencing. But the change is coming, and your shops need to be ready with the right techs to handle this new technology.
About Jane Clark
Jane Clark is Vice President of Member Services for NationaLease. Before joining the full service truck leasing organization, she served in executive positions with some of the nation’s top staffing and recruitment agencies.