At the Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC) annual meeting this week, trucking industry executives and suppliers ever-growing shortage of heavy-truck maintenance technicians – a shortage predicted to get worse in the near future.

“It’s a problem and we’re working on several fronts to address it,” Michael Walters, director of maintenance for Mondovi, WI-based refrigerated carrier Marten Transport told Fleet Owner. “That includes finding ways to recruit more people into the technician field, improving the technician’s image, and offering them more training as trucks continue to get more complex.”

Walters heads up TMC’s Professional Technician Development Committee (PTDC), which is working on a variety of outreach efforts through advertising campaigns and scholarship programs to attract more high school students to the technician career path.

On another front, PTDC is sponsoring a national technician skills competition at TMC’s fall meeting in late September in Valley Forge, PA. The grand prize will be a full 9-month scholarship to Wyoming-based vocational school Wyo Tech, with TMC sponsors donating funds to cover room and board expenses.

“It’s a way for us to raise the technician’s profile and attract new people into the profession,” Walters said.

The need for technicians is acute as more are retiring than can be replaced. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that by 2012 annual demand for technicians should rise to 101,184, representing growth of 12.4% over the next decade.

Vocational schools are having a hard time keeping up with that demand curve, too. The Engine City Technical Institute of South Plainfield, NJ, for example, recently moved into a new facility twice the size of its old one to have the room necessary to handle more students, but job demand continues to outpace its supply of graduates.

“We have 100 graduates this year looking at 600 job openings,” Tim O’Connor, the school’s director of training, told Fleet Owner. “The demand is incredible.”

This demand is coming at a time when trucking is relying more and more on highly skilled maintenance personnel to handle the changes in truck technology coming down the road, noted Michael Jeffress, vp-maintenance for Maverick Transportation and outgoing chairman of TMC, in his opening remarks at the convention.

“Mastering the challenges of technical integration is a major preoccupation of both fleets and suppliers these days,” he said. “New emission regulations, improvements in braking, communication, transmissions, and other technologies are all making our jobs more complex because the vehicles themselves are becoming increasingly complex.”

Jeffress also noted that maintenance decisions by carriers are going to have an even longer-term impact as the industry deals with the 2007 emission regulations.

“The decisions we collectively make now, we will live with for the next 15 years starting in 2007,” he said. “That’s why it’s so important to get it right now.”