SAN ANTONIO. A continuing dearth of skilled technicians is forcing dealerships and fleets alike to engage in a variety of different strategies to try and solve what’s become a long-term problem for the trucking industry.

Here at Rush Trucks Centers’ (RTC) 2011 Technician Skills Rodeo, Mike Besson, RTC’s vice president-service, explained that right now Rush is about 250 technicians short for the amount of work available in the heavy- and medium-duty truck market and that this problem will only become more acute in the future.

“It’s becoming a lot harder finding them because there just aren’t enough new ones coming into the business,” he told Fleet Owner. “So now, not only are we trying to grow our own, we’re trying to make them more efficient as well so they can handle the higher volume of work.”

See a photo gallery from the 2011 Technician Skills Rodeo

RTC – a division of Rush Enterprises – currently employs over 1,100 technicians spread out among 70 service locations across the U.S. and relies on them for the lion’s share of the company’s business, as 60 to 70% of RTC’s gross profit comes from parts and service activity.

Demand for technician services is also expected to keep growing as well, as Rush projects its parts and service revenue will top $680 million this year, up from $489 million in 2010 and $395 million in 2009.

To address the growing shortage, RTC, like many dealerships, is pursuing a number of strategies. The first focuses on trying to make the company’s current technician workforce more efficient, providing them not only with better tools and more training resources, but helping them become “self sufficient” when faced with the increasingly complex nature of truck and engine repair tasks.

Indeed, the main thrust of Rush’s annual technician rodeo, which is now in its sixth year, is not so much to see which technicians can make repairs the fastest, but measure whether they know how to properly tap into and quickly navigate all the sources of information made available to them.

“It relates to that old saying: if you give a man a fish, he has one meal. But if you teach a man to fish, he can feed himself for a lifetime,” Steve Bertrand, Midwest district service manager for Peterbilt Motors Co. and one of the judges at the contest, explained to Fleet Owner.

“We want them to be able to dig up their own information to solve vehicle and engine problems,” he said. “We want to see if they know where to go on the Internet to get information, if they can find the right electrical wiring schematics, and do all of this in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible. In the end, we need them to be able to keep moving independently on a repair and not tie up other resources in the shop on it.”

See video from the event (Day 1 of the event) (The napkin test)

RTC is also focusing on ways to get more new blood into its truck technician corps, as a generational shift broadly affecting in the U.S. workforce is starting to thin its ranks.

For example, over the next 20 years, 77 million Baby Boomers will begin retiring to only be replaced by 46 million new workers, according to numbers tracked by the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD).

In response, RTC is partnering more intimately with a variety of vocational schools at the local level to help encourage younger workers to become truck technicians.

For example, RTC regional manager Mario Trevino told Fleet Owner that he’s offering part-time work to vocational students at some of the five stores in his territory as a way to help highlight the benefits of the truck technician career path.

“The kids make good money working part time and that gets noticed when they go back home to their communities,” Trevino pointed out. “That in turn may help convince more kids to look at the truck technician career path.”

However, he stressed that there are no shortcuts in terms of growing technicians in this manner, as students are expected to fully complete the typical two-year vocational schooling course so they fully understand the fundamentals of the truck technician trade.

“As long as we keep students moving into the vocational education program, I will eventually have a larger pool of candidates to draw from as time goes on,” Trevino said.

RTC’s Besson stressed, however, that such grass roots technician development efforts will need to go farther in the future. “The guy or gal in the vocational program has already made that choice to try this career path,” he noted. “The key now is to convince the kids in high school to go to a vocational school. That’s the next step in this process.”

See a photo gallery from the 2011 Technician Skills Rodeo

See video from the event (Day 1 of the event) (The napkin test)