Economic Development / Workforce Development

The Diesel Technician Crisis in NWA

Executive Summary

Employers in Northwest Arkansas, a region with some of the country’s largest corporate fleets and trucking companies, are challenged to find trained diesel technicians. Local companies are forced to spend more resources on recruiting and training and face longer periods without the skilled labor they need to grow.

The Springdale Chamber of Commerce realizes the critical shortage of diesel technicians is hurting local companies. The Chamber commissioned Economic Leadership LLC to study the diesel technician shortage and develop recommendations to address the problem. The research included an analysis of current and future demand, interviews with local companies, student and parent surveys, and case studies reviewing successful training programs across the country.

Diesel technicians are specially trained workers who perform the maintenance and repairs needed to keep big rigs, heavy construction equipment, farm equipment, buses, trains and other
machinery operating. Certified diesel technicians receive post-secondary training at a technical school or college and gain additional skills and experience on the job.

Key findings from the study include:

  • More than 2,850 diesel technicians needed statewide between now and 2027
  • 21% of diesel technicians will retire in the next decade and 54% in the next 20 years
  • The number of new entrants into the field is not large enough to fill these jobs
  • The local diesel technology training program supplies about 12 trained technicians each year
  • There is a need for 40 to 50 new diesel technicians to be trained each year in Northwest Arkansas
  • Statewide, there is a shortage of 144 technicians per year

Job Outlook and Income

Nationwide, the trucking industry will need more than 31,600 new technicians by 2024 to meet demand. Diesel technician jobs are projected to grow at a higher rate than the average for all occupations according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

A career as a diesel technician provides a good income. According to local employers, initial pay for new diesel technicians ranges from $15 to $22 an hour.

Several companies estimate an average technician could earn about $50,000-$60,000 each year. This would put the estimated average pay, across all experience levels, to be between $25 and $28 an hour. Companies also noted wages are rising consistently at a rate of three percent each year in the region.

If a technician moves beyond entry level and gains the necessary certifications, their hourly wage, including some overtime pay, can push upwards to $65 an hour.

Other Benefits

A career as a diesel technician offers the ability to earn a quality wage with quicker schooling and without the large amounts of student loan debt often incurred when earning a four-year degree.

The career offers other long-term financial benefits like pensions and, with time and experience, compensation that can be higher than that of some management positions. A career as a diesel technician is advantageous because it creates value for companies and provides a high starting wage with a pathway to even higher earnings.

Conclusion

Despite the benefits of a career in diesel technology, parents and educators are neither aware of nor promoting these opportunities.

The career is far from the “grease monkey” image many have of it. A computer is now just as important to a diesel technician as a tool box. Diesel technology requires a unique blend of mechanical and technological skills that is challenging existing training programs.

Future technicians must exhibit both skills in technology and an interest in this type of hands-on work. This demands an educational system that can recognize students with this interest and aptitude and provide them with proper training programs.

Given the unique requirements of addressing the diesel technician gap in the region, the Springdale Chamber of Commerce chose this occupation as its focus amidst a national skilled trades deficit. The Chamber believes that addressing the diesel technician shortage in the region could offer solutions to scale at the state level. It would also provide a model for addressing other supply gaps.

Recommendations

This research has confirmed a serious supply gap of diesel technicians that is limiting the current and future economic potential of both Northwest Arkansas and the state. Economic Leadership believes public education students represent the best opportunity to promote careers in diesel technology and recommends stakeholders in the region collaborate to create and support a high school based diesel technology-training program.

The program would require the construction of a dedicated training lab able to house several trucks and classrooms. The students in this program should graduate in four years with a diesel technician certification followed by a paid internship with a local company. Upon successful completion of their internships, students would be qualified to enter the field or pursue further education.

Successful implementation of a public high school diesel program in Northwest Arkansas can also serve as a pilot for similar programs to meet the demand across the state. Expanding the local trade school’s capabilities to train adults is also recommended.

Coordinated efforts to educate students and parents on the benefits of the profession early in their education are crucial to the training effort. Parent and student survey results indicate that passive exposure to the trade will not be enough. Information regarding training programs must be marketed and promoted to bring more students into the talent pipeline. Parents and students are unlikely to seek the information they will need on their own.

Creating a new high school program and expanding adult training will require collaboration between educators, local companies, and policy makers. All stakeholders must be willing to come to the table and commit to long-term contributions to the program.

Local companies have been taking individual, unilateral efforts to provide training to employees and appear willing to support a coordinated training program if they are granted input into curriculum and access to the students. Under this recommended plan, educators will be able to provide students with a debt-free technical education in a well-compensated career.

Policy makers have the opportunity to create a model for trade based education that supports Arkansas’ students and companies. Economic Leadership and the Chamber believe the severity of the gap merits the investment and commitment from stakeholders across the state to implement these recommendations.