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Are Employers to Blame for the Diesel Technician Shortage?  

Many heavy equipment OEMs, dealers, remanufacturers, and rental companies are struggling with the diesel technician shortage.

What’s behind the shortage? We’ve learned from our many interviews with diesel technicians that there are several factors, which we highlight below, that are the reasons why you are struggling to hire and keep your diesel technicians.  Most of the reasons are employer-driven, only a few are not. Regardless, the diesel technician shortage has become a proverbial rock in the shoe of most heavy equipment companies.

Supply, Demand, and Compensation – the job market is hot, so naturally there is a lot of competition for existing diesel technicians in the market. Basic economics are at play here: When supply is low, and demand is high, prices go up.

Diesel technicians, like most professionals, are money motivated. Having said that, when they get a call from a former co-worker or recruiter, or they see a job posted online, it’s no surprise that compensation is a major driver in whether you keep your technician, or they choose to take a job elsewhere. Exacerbating the problem is the fact that there are many senior-level diesel technicians retiring, or on the verge of retirement.

Poor Work-Life Balance – I don’t think I’ve ever talked to a diesel technician who doesn’t like to get overtime. At pay rates ranging from $30-50/hr, technicians can earn a lot of extra wages by working overtime. This is a double-edged sword, though. If you work your diesel technicians too hard in the heat, cold and rain, they can get burned out. The biggest work-life challenge we’ve learned is that technicians like to be at home with their families at night, especially after a long shift.

Excessive Physical Demands – We recruit for all types of jobs requiring the skills of trained diesel technicians, and one of the most common complaints we get from the more experienced mechanics is that the physical demands of the job can cause wear and tear on the body that impacts their quality of life.

Many then start looking for jobs in technical support, technical training, shop technician, or even parts sales and service (PSSR) positions that allow the use of their knowledge and expertise without the physical stress on the body.

Bad Company Leadership – Perhaps this is an obvious one!?! It has been said that employees don’t leave bad companies, they leave bad bosses. What we’ve learned is that many service managers are glorified diesel technicians.

They are often skilled mechanics, but they lack the leadership acumen and emotional intelligence needed to inspire, motivate, train, and communicate with their teams. This often leads to technicians feeling disconnected from a purpose or cause. Instead, they feel as though they are a ship without a rutter. Common issues resulting from weak leadership are favoritism, inconsistent or lacking communication, underdeveloped or weak training, little (if any) continuous improvement, inefficient processes, and a lack of genuine care or concern for staff.

Lack of Appreciation/Rewards – This is not just true for diesel technicians or mechanics, but for any employee. It is true that you can’t improve what you don’t measure. Having metrics and dashboards with standards of performance are a double-edged sword. When used to club your staff to death with condemnation, they can be demotivating and lead to an exodus. This is old-school mentality is likely a factor in the diesel technician shortage.

On the other hand, when metrics are used to identify opportunities to recognize high performers or those who have most improved, they can breathe life into a team. Rewards don’t always have to be related to performance metrics, either. We’ve learned that rewarding and recognizing staff for their demonstration of the company’s core values is a great way to encourage ‘good behavior’ and it sends a consistent message that the company’s values are not just empty platitudes. Recognition can also come with rewards, too, like a trophy, a coveted parking spot, or a sign on the wall. Recognizing someone in the group, and not just in private, can be very motivating to an employee. This includes diesel technicians.

Limited Career Path – This may not be a primary driver for the diesel technician shortage, but for high performers, they want to know that they aren’t going to be stuck in a job and limited in their career advancement because they are good at what they do. Many skilled mechanics are selfishly kept in their jobs with limited upward mobility for fear of losing a high performer.

The truth is, if you stifle someone’s growth, they will likely leave you eventually anyway. Having a process to identify your high-potential technicians and then providing a career path for them will help curb unwanted turnover.

Quality of Team – No one ever said, ever, “I want to be on a losing team.” If you want to lose diesel technicians, then partner them with low performers with no goals or objectives and weak leadership. Even one bad apple can spoil the bunch. Good leaders know how to spot talent, reward and recognize them, develop and train them, and promote them. There can be no “sacred cows.” If you have underperforming technicians on your team, it makes it harder on everyone else. This is a surefire way to create negativity and burnout in high performers.

Diesel technicians are the lifeblood of every heavy equipment company. If you aren’t conducting exit interviews to understand why people are leaving, then you may never understand your underlying issues. Worse yet, you may actually be contributing to the diesel technician shortage. If you know the issues, but you aren’t addressing it (or them), then don’t be surprised if your service department becomes a revolving door for your technicians.


For More Information

If you are an employer looking to utilize an agency to fill an open position in heavy equipment contact us at [email protected] or (210) 798-5888.

Job seekers in the heavy equipment industry can find open positions on our heavy equipment job page.

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