North Carolina heavy-truck and equipment-related industries in joint effort to ease technician scarcity

Fifty years ago, the North Carolina Trucking Assn. recognized the need for a self-generating source of drivers who'd be able to skillfully and safely handle combination rigs.

As a result, the group's Safety, Security and Personnel Council -- working in concert with the state's community college system and legislators -- established the North Carolina Truck Driver Training School, the first of its kind in the nation.

I'm intimately familiar with this piece of trucking history because I'm a part of it. In 1979 I graduated from the North Carolina Truck Driver Training School in Smithfield.

Once again, North Carolina trucking companies are using the state's community college system to help relieve another crucial personnel problem -- the shortage of qualified diesel technicians.

Since the diesel-tech shortage cuts across industry lines, affecting literally every user of heavy equipment, a number of North Carolina motor carriers have joined with other in-state users of heavy equipment, including construction companies and industrial truck and rental equipment dealers. Together, they are working to develop a more effective school-to-work movement within the state.

Spearheading this effort is a non-profit foundation, the North Carolina Industries for Technical Education (NCITE), pronounced "insight." NCITE's president, J. Gregory Poole Jr. -- who is also chairman of Gregory Poole Equipment Co., the Raleigh-based Caterpillar dealer -- told attendees at TMC's fall meeting about the group's goals and accomplishments to date.

The group's membership roster lists 132 truck and bus operators, heavy-equipment dealers, heavy-vehicle parts and service operations, marine and farm equipment dealers, and trailer sales and service outlets. The members serve as volunteers for community college projects that ultimately will benefit their businesses, as well as helping students.

With a mission to increase the state's pool of qualified service technicians, the group is forming an industrial-education partnership, as well as convincing young people that careers in truck maintenance shops can be mentally stimulating and financially rewarding.

Poole feels the acute shortage of diesel technicians can be attributed to poor recruitment and inadequate retention policies, plus a lousy image for diesel technicians and a cultural bias against blue collar trades.

NCITE's president reported that the group has made some inroads in energizing the state's diesel technician education program. It has been an uphill battle at times, however, because the group has to overcome years of "negative public relations" that have led many to believe that truck maintenance is a low-tech, low-skill, low-opportunity job.

Poole explained that NCITE has tried to establish itself as the state's central industry organization for future technician development. "Most students assume that a four-year college is the only pathway to success. But the fact is that 75% of all future jobs will be based on two-year technical programs," he stated. "Nevertheless, we have found that a number of community colleges simply allowed their diesel technician programs to fold when the instructors retired."

Revitalizing the state's diesel tech programs involves more than providing much-needed training equipment for the schools. Poole says that NCITE members participate in many other ways. "We develop new curricula for college tech-prep programs, recruit high school students for tech careers, and provide technical career awareness."

Taking educational participation to the next level means that NCITE members will provide apprenticeships, as well as mentoring, for college tech-prep students. In addition, scholarships will be awarded to students who enroll in advanced diesel-tech training in community colleges.

More details on NCITE's membership information can be obtained by contacting executive director John Shaw at 919-217-2338.