By Gino Fontana
Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President, Transervice
As originally appeared in FleetOwner Magazine’s IdeaXchange
Here’s some good news: Enrollment in trade schools is growing, according to several studies. But studies don’t always represent the real world, so I was happy to see the news that WyoTech, a diesel and automotive technician trade school, has seen its enrollment grow significantly—from 26 students in 2018 to 685 by October 2021.
“The growth of WyoTech, as well as other trade and vocational schools across the nation, is a sign of the changing times within the U.S. job market,” said Jim Mathis, president of WyoTech. “There has been a growing emphasis on skilled labor, as those jobs remain unfilled the longest.”
I know 685 is nowhere close to the number of technicians we need, but it represents a significant growth in people interested in pursuing careers as technicians. This increased enrollment comes at a time when enrollment in undergraduate programs at colleges and universities has declined. The press release included statistics from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center that indicated undergraduate enrollment has fallen 3% since the fall of 2020.
I think all of us in the trucking industry should try to take advantage of this small bit of momentum. The COVID-19 pandemic raised awareness about the true value of the trucking industry as many people realized—perhaps for the first time—just how all that stuff got on the shelves of their favorite stores and into their homes. While it is probably going a little too far to say trucking is enjoying a renaissance, I think more people have become aware of the important role trucking plays in the economy and in their daily lives.
All of us in the trucking industry need to seize this opportunity and spend some time making young people aware of the great jobs that are available in trucking—not just as drivers and technicians but also across our operations.
Specific to technicians, if you are not already working closely with your local tech schools you are missing a big opportunity. We need to make sure these tech schools have modern equipment for their students to work on. It does no good to have a kid come out of a tech school without the skills he or she needs to work on a modern truck. So, donating a 15-year-old truck to a trade school is not helping.
If you are going to donate, to the extent possible, make sure it is current technology. Make an appointment to visit the trade school to talk with them about the curriculum and let them know how you think they can improve it so that students come out of the programs with the skills they need to effectively work in your operation. And then offer to have someone from your organization come in and be a guest lecturer to provide some real-world context to the lessons. There also is great value in participating in or supporting vocational job fairs at these schools.
But I also advise you not to wait until someone has enrolled in a tech school to reach out to them. Host local students at your facility—following COVID safety protocols, of course—to let them get a behind-the-scenes look at your operation so they can see all the cool technology you use or even to get an up-close look at a big rig.
Those of us who have been in the trucking industry for any amount of time know what a great industry this is. It’s time we started spreading the word. If we do it right, we can get some really talented people to come to work for us.