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Mobil Delvac panel discusses what fleets need to do to deal with tech shortage

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There’s a lot of concern these days about the growing driver shortage. And it’s a valid concern. But there is another area where the supply of qualified labor looks to be falling behind the growing demand that also has fleet executives worried.

As much as drivers are needed to keep the wheels turning, those wheels won’t even get out on the road without technicians.

Back in March, Mobil Delvac held its 2018 Fleet Maintenance Forum in Louisville, Kentucky, the evening before the start of the Mid-America Trucking Show. The panel discussion was led by George Arrants, director of training and recruitment for the WheelTime Network and chairman  of the American Trucking Associations’ Technology and Maintenance Council Super Tech Competition and the Future Technicians Skills Competition.

The discussion was titled, “Facing the Technician Shortage: How to Recruit and Retain Top Talent.” Arrants opened the discussion by challenging the premise that there truly is a technician shortage, showing that the raw numbers don’t bear that out. A 2014 survey showed there were 263,900 diesel technicians at the time and projected that by 2024 the industry will need to have 291,500. Allowing for the number of technicians expected to leave the profession for one reason or another, it’s estimated the industry will need to come up with 76,900 new technicians in that 10-year span.

Meanwhile, technician programs at public and private schools are churning out an average of 10,700 graduates a year. “Do the math,” Arrants said — there shouldn’t be a shortage.

So, what’s the problem? He and his fellow panelists proposed there isn’t so much a shortage of technicians as much as they are being squandered.

Arrants said at events like this he likes to ask fleet representatives if it is really a shortage of applicants that’s the problem or of qualified applicants.

“And nearly 90 percent of them say, ‘we have a shortage of qualified applicants,’” he said.

He and his fellow panelists suggested that fleets need to look at their definition of “qualified,” and how they determine who meets that definition. Too many companies have come to rely on formulas and computerized algorithms in the application process, Arrants said.

Panelist Mike Morvilius, vice president of maintenance for Moore Transport, agreed. When Moore Transport opened, he had no problem finding people, he said. But when he started to have to replace a few, he could place an ad and after a month he wouldn’t see a single candidate. He went down to the human resources department and found out that, yes, there had been applicants, but they’d all been rejected for not meeting the hiring criteria.

“I’ve never been a big fan of ‘criteria,’” Morvilius said — very few of us go through life with a spotless record. From that point on, he insisted all applications have to cross his desk. Since then he’s hired some of his best people.

Arrants suggested fleet executives submit their own resumés to see if they could get hired at their own companies, and “if you can’t even get out of the system, there’s a problem.”

Speaking of criteria, Arrants added, if you’re the type who insists on years of experience, consider this: “If you start with entry-level technicians, the only bad habits they’ll have are the ones you teach them.”

One of the most common comebacks Arrants hears is these new guys come out of the schools knowing nothing except how to rebuild engines. That’s a valid complaint, he said. “I’m sorry, but there’s not a company I know that’s going to let a 19-year-old work on a $60,000 engine.”

ExxonMobil CVL applications engineer Paul Cigala works with fleets across the country to develop their maintenance programs, and hears the same complaint. “You have your entry level who’s probably changing oil, greasing, maybe some lighting/electrical work.” But too many entry-level technicians are coming out of school untrained in these areas.

This is a national problem with a local solution, Arrants said. And that local solution, Mr. and Ms. Fleet Owner, is you. If you don’t like what the technician programs at your local schools are churning out, let them know what skills you need and offer your expertise and assistance.

“You have to get involved,” Arrants said. “Industry has to drive the train.”

Panelist Jerry Clemons, automotive and diesel technology program coordinator at Elizabethtown (Kentucky) Community and Technical College, can hold up is school as an example.

“We have a very strong relationship with industry and have had for many years,” he said. The school conducts advisory committee meetings twice a year in which members of the industry are invited to provide feedback about the program. Local companies also help with donations of components, and even trucks and trailers.

The curriculum is set up to give the students a wide range of knowledge, Clemons said. “Our students are in high demand and we don’t get any feedback that they are not ready for the industry teaching them what we teach,” Clemons said.

More schools and companies are developing internships programs as part of their relationships, Clemons said. He’s also found local employers will hire promising students part-time while they’re finishing school.

“The companies that are doing that are not having a problem,” Arrants said. They’re getting first crack at the best prospects before they graduate.

But as so many trucking companies know all too well, getting employees in the door is one thing, holding onto them is another.

This is particularly true with entry-level employees, Arrants added. “I tell people, we eat our young,” he said. “We take them out, first day on the job, throw them out in the shop and expect them to be productive.

“Sometimes we’ll ask these kids to do a job, and they do it different than we do it. Then we think it’s wrong and we call them idiots or say, ‘I can’t believe you graduated from this school’ or whatever,” and so a lot of them quit.

Older generations like to complain that millennials are too sensitive, they feel entitled, they’re lazy. But “we created them,” Arrants said, “We’ve been giving them trophies for coming in last place since they were 6 years old when we should have been saying, ‘pick another sport.’”

But if you take this generation at face value and work with them, and you might be pleasantly surprised, he added.

“We forget, at one point we were ‘those darned teenagers,’” Arrants said, and just like our parents’ generation found out, there comes a time when youth must be served.

In 2000, baby boomers represented nearly half of the nation’s workforce. Today, baby boomers and Generation Xers combined make up less than half the workforce. Generation Y, the millennials — they’re the majority of your workforce now.

Arrants advises his fellow “gray hairs or no hairs” to accept that today’s young adults didn’t have the experiences his generation did growing up.

“We turned wrenches as a kid,” Arrants said. Guys grew up in the driveway, working on their bikes, then on some beater of a car. Not anymore.

“When I taught 20 years ago, a kid knew what a Phillips screwdriver was, or a straight blade or whatever. Nowadays, we have to teach these kids what a screwdriver is, and that a torque bit is not a ‘star thing.’”

There’s nothing you can assume they know, Arrants said. But don’t assume they can’t learn it. As always, it’s a matter of knowing how to motivate employees.

When it comes to employee satisfaction, the whole work-life balance equation has changed, Arrants said, and that applies to time on the clock, as well.

“One of my quotes is, do you treat your employees like your children or like your grandchildren?” he said. Fewer kids grow up in traditional, stable homes these days, Arrants said. Young workers value a clean, safe work environment and a sense that they’re part of a work family.

Creating this sense of inclusion needs to start right at the beginning, Arrants said. He strongly suggests companies have designated mentors to show new people the ropes, both on the job and within the company culture.

If the new technicians coming out of school seem a bit deficient, the panelists suggested, bear in mind that with the speed at which trucking technology is evolving, so is the definition of “qualified applicant.” The kids coming out of school today are generally a lot faster adopting new technology than their graybeard counterparts, Arrants said.

“These kids have great skills,” he said. They may not be the skills of 20 or 30 years ago but that may be a good thing. While your older workers may have to show the newbies the right wrench to use, these kids may help demystify the latest electronic innovations to reluctant old-timers.

As technology changes, so does the definition of “qualified,” Cigala pointed out.

The training never really ends for technicians to keep up with changing times.

“Some people think, ‘if you train them, they will leave,’” Arrants said. “But if you don’t train them, they may stay. Think about that.”

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The Nation

OOIDA Foundation issues information it says debunks driver shortage ‘myth’

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Most carriers with high turnover do so by design, says OOIDA President Todd Spencer. “They could deal with driver turnover by offering better wages and benefits and improved working conditions,” he said.

GRAIN VALLEY, Mo. — The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association’s research foundation published two new documents it says debunks the driver shortage “myth.”

A fact sheet explains how the industry isn’t afflicted with a shortage of drivers, but is actually plagued with overcapacity and driver retention, the foundation reported.

A second, accompanying document talks about how wages have decreased for truck drivers at large carriers and many have moved toward smaller fleets.

Last year, the association also created a short video that explains why there is high turnover as opposed to a shortage.

“We are concerned about the perpetuation of a myth of driver shortage,” said Todd Spencer, OOIDA President. “This misinformation is used to push agendas that are harmful to the industry and highway safety.”

To address the supposed driver “shortage,” some organizations have suggested that the age requirement to obtain a commercial driver’s license should be lowered from 21 to 18.

“If safety is the top priority when considering a change to a regulation, when it comes to age, the number should be raised, not lowered.” Spencer said.

OOIDA also contends that any issue with retention could be mitigated with other solutions that would be safer for all highway users.

For example, compensation has been shown to be tied directly to highway safety, as revealed in studies that suggest there is a strong correlation between driver pay and highway safety, Spencer said.

“Most carriers with high turnover do so by design,” he said. “They could deal with driver turnover by offering better wages and benefits and improved working conditions. But putting younger drivers behind the wheel of a truck isn’t the solution because it does nothing to address the underlying issues that push drivers out of the industry. It merely exacerbates the churn.”

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association is the largest national trade association representing the interests of small-business trucking professionals and professional truck drivers. The association currently has more than 160,000 members nationwide. OOIDA was established in 1973 and is headquartered in the greater Kansas City, Missouri, area.

 

 

 

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The Nation

Bill to prevent shutdown has benefits for USDOT

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The legislative deal passed to prevent a government shutdown contains $45.3 billion for highways honoring FAST Act funding levels for 2019, plus $3.25 billion in supplemental funding out of the general fund. (AASHTO Journal)

WASHINGTON — As part of bicameral legislative deal to prevent a second partial federal government shutdown while providing monies to build a wall along parts of the southern U.S. border, a total of $26.5 billion in discretionary funds and $60 billion from Highway and Airport and Airway Trust Funds will be provided to the U.S. Department of Transportation, according to an article in the Journal, a publication of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

The legislative deal passed both the Senate and the House by wide margins.

This legislation also contains final funding for a series of fiscal year 2019 appropriations bills for nine federal departments and related agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Commerce, Department of Justice, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Some of the USDOT appropriations measure include:

  • $45.3 billion for highways honoring FAST Act funding levels for 2019, plus $3.25 billion in supplemental funding out of the general fund.
  • Of that $3.25 billion in supplemental highway funding from the general fund, roughly $2.7 billion will be apportioned to the states as if it were Surface Transportation Block Grant Program funding, while $475 million will be for a Bridge Rehabilitation and Replacement program.
  • $900 million for Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development or BUILD discretionary grant program grants, divided evenly between rural and urban projects.
  • $2.55 billion for the Capital Investment Grant program, including $1.27 billion for “new starts,” $635 million for “core capacity” and $527 million for “small starts.”

“This legislation makes a significant down payment on the border wall and provides a bipartisan path forward to complete the remaining FY19 spending bills,” Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in a statement.

“Our bipartisan efforts have been essential in securing the passage of this bill and completing the FY19 appropriations process,” he said. “It is my hope that we will all continue to work together as we turn to the FY20 appropriations bills.”

“This is not the agreement I would have reached on my own [as] there are things in this bill that I support, and things that I disagree with – but that is the nature of a negotiation,” said Ranking Member Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. “This agreement funds nine federal departments and their related agencies. Everyone had to give something to reach a bipartisan compromise.”

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The Nation

Driver Ronald Feimster hopes to take the freedom of the road to the next level in 2019  

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Ronald Feimster tried working in other kinds of jobs, but he found he likes the freedom and independence truck driving offers. His goal for 2019 is to get his own truck and become an owner-operator. (The Trucker: KLINT LOWRY)

You don’t head out on the road without an intended destination, and the vast majority of the time you have a route planned out. And it’s not a bad idea to approach life goals the same way.

Ronald Feimster has begun 2019 with a clear idea of where he wants to get to within the next year.

“My goal is to be an owner-operator and to drive for Oakley Trucking,” he said.

Feimster was finishing breakfast at the Iron Skillet at the TravelCenters of America/Petro truck stop at I-40, exit 161, just outside Little Rock, Arkansas. He’d struck up a conversation with a fellow driver, Tim Plubell, who’s been an owner-operator for nearly 20 years (A story about Plubell can be found in the XXX edition of The Trucker), so Feimster’s career goals were at the front of his mind when The Trucker caught up with him.

He’s done his homework, he said. He knows a lot goes into being an owner-operator.

“I drove for a lease operator before,” Feimster said. “He was the owner-operator. And I loved it. I loved the freedom of it. I know you have to pay for your own maintenance, but a lot of these companies nowadays, they help you with the maintenance, so that cuts that in half. Then you have that fuel surcharge, so that cuts that in half.”

Feimster, who hails from Rogers, Arkansas, has also done his homework on Oakley Trucking, a subsidiary of Bruce Oakley Inc., a commodity trading, distribution and transportation company based in North Little Rock, Arkansas. Oakley Trucking specializes dry bulk transportation throughout the Lower 48 and Canada.

“And Oakley, they pay excellent, but the catch is you have to own your own truck,” Feimster said. “Pull their trailers, but you own your own truck. That’s my goal.”

Long-term, he said, at 47, if all goes as he’s envisioning it, if he gets in at Oakley, it could be the kind of situation where he could spend the rest of his career there.

Not that he’s unhappy where he’s at. Feimster drives for Southern Refrigerated Transport, popularly known as SRT.

“They’re a good company,” Feimster said. “I’d recommend them to anybody.”

He runs a dedicated route pulling reefer for Tyson Foods. His route keeps him within the neighboring states of Arkansas. But, as he explained, he generally gets home about every three weeks.

“I could get home every weekend, but you don’t make any money like that,” he said. “You have to stay out here for a little while. Unless I were an owner-operator. Then I would do it differently.”

Feimster first got into trucking in 1998. Before that, he said, “I wasn’t really doing nothing.” In other words, he had jobs, but he didn’t have a career. “I was doing factory work. It wasn’t that good. So, I got into trucking, basically, to start making more money. I went ahead and got my CDL.”

He started out hauling logs. Since then he’s “been around,” he said, gaining experience working for Panther 2, Swift Transportation and Covenant Transport, which owns SRT.

At one point, he tried to get out of trucking. “I was over-the-road, and I was tired of going through those snowy mountains” in Colorado, he said. The job wasn’t worth risking his life.

“I said, ‘I have got to get out of this,’ because I had just gotten married, and then we had our first child. I’ve got to go home and be a dad,” Feimster said.

He went back to warehouse work and even became a supervisor. But he came to realize that he just wasn’t a company-culture kind of guy. One of the best things about truck driving, Feimster said, is there’s “no one breathing over your back.” Even after having been the one doing the breathing, he hates that kind of work environment.

He said he didn’t want to publicly describe the straw that broke the camel’s back and sent him to trucking. The short version of the story is he was told to fire an employee that he firmly believed didn’t deserve it.

“I said, ‘you know what? This is not a good way to treat people,’” he said. “That was enough for me. I talked to my old lady. I said, ‘I’m going to go back to truck driving.’ She said ‘OK, that’s what you want to do?’ I said I was going to be away from home, but our kids are grown. Everything’s fine. She said go for it. Here I am.”

Trucking may not be perfect, but he needs to feel that independence.

Sure, there are a few ways the job could be better. “We would like more pay,” he said, then quickly added, “who wouldn’t?”

It also bothers him that society in general doesn’t value what truckers do.

“If trucks stopped delivering for just a couple days, the country would come to a standstill,” he said. “Why isn’t the profession held in higher regard?”

Well, there isn’t a whole lot he can do about that. He appreciates what the profession means to him, and he intends to make the most of it.

 

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