Trucking's technician shortage often seems to take a back seat to its much discussed driver shortage. While no one would disagree there's not enough new blood refreshing the ranks of either occupation, one could argue that the tech shortage is the more significant. And the more intractable.

That's because as critical as professional drivers are to trucking, the basic skills to pilot a rig can be acquired fairly quickly by those with aptitude and attitude.

And come on, everyone knows the driver recruitment and retention problem revolves around quality of life issues, namely pay and working conditions, that if push came to shove could be resolved by — gasp — throwing money at them.

With techs, it's not that simple. You can teach someone how to check tire inflation or maybe do a basic PM including changing the oil and whatnot fairly quickly. But coming up with a full-blown tech requires real hit-the-books and hit-the-wrenches schooling.

And no matter how much salaries for these jobs get boosted, you won't find takers unless they've gone and gotten that requisite education — which pretty much must begin when they are still in secondary school.

That is to say, you could start a career as a truck driver at 25. Or 35. Or 45. Or 55. But if you haven't at least started down the path toward becoming a heavy-duty diesel tech by the time you are 16, 17 or 18, you probably never will.

Among other trucking stakeholders who recognize all this, Mack Trucks Inc. has launched a new program aimed specifically at helping its dealers “find, train and retain the next generation” of techs for trucking.

“Dealers today are facing a double challenge — they're confronted with this severe shortage of qualified help, yet they don't have the time or resources to systematically address it,” says Al Hertzog, director of the North American Institute (NAI), Mack's dealer and customer training operation. “The Technician Recruitment Program is designed to bridge this gap.”

At the heart of the program is a new “technician recruitment kit” of materials assembled to help convince young persons to consider becoming truck technicians in the first place.

Included in the kit are a recruitment guide, brochures, videos and PowerPoint presentations — all aimed at educating potential techs about the benefits of a career in truck repair and maintenance.

Hertzog points out that one key audience is high school students. “Many of them believe that a four-year college degree is their only option,” he says. “They have this image of the ‘dirty mechanic.’ We need to make young people understand that with the advent of advanced electronics, computerized diagnostics and other technologies, the nature of the job has changed dramatically. Working on trucks today provides a great way to make a good living doing something you enjoy.”

The North American Institute is also adding an entry-level tech training course to its list of offered classes to help Mack dealers develop and retain newly recruited employees.

“That's a critical part of the overall strategy,” Hertzog relates. “It's not enough just to bring them in the door. New recruits need proper training to be effective. Dealers have told us that what they need most right now are technicians with basic computer and technical skills.

“They're looking for people who can remove and replace water pumps, alternators and wheel seals, for example, and do basic brake overhauls, and at the same time be familiar enough with computers to program an electronic control module in a truck,” he continues. “It's these basic skills that are the focus of our new course.”

So it's the early bird — or dog, as the case may be — who will get the tech.