The Technician Shortage Is Not Complicated

Alex Kraft
Dec 5, 2023

I get a chuckle when I hear the narrative around “can’t find people who want to be a diesel technician”.  I’ve heard it since the day I started my career in 2004. The same message persists today.  Nothing has changed.  I find it counterproductive to try and blame individuals by questioning work ethic and calling generations lazy. Many topics aren’t that complicated–people respond to incentive structures. The main reason why the technician labor pool has been lagging behind is purely economical.

Anyone who’s worked in the equipment industry would agree that diesel technicians are a highly skilled labor force.  Many say they are the “lifeblood” of the dealership.  Throw in some cliches, like “customer support sells the next machine” or “we’re a service company that sells machines”, and you start believing that service is the most important department within an equipment dealer.  So why aren’t technicians paid more?  If they’re highly skilled (and in high demand!), are relied upon to fix $400,000+ machines, and preventing customer downtime is so important, why aren’t technicians paid more?  The wage scale hasn’t changed much since I began in 2004.  Depending on geography, top tier technicians today earn around $40-$45 per hour.  Do the math, that’s $85k-$95k per year.  That’s a fraction of what sales reps earn per year.  There’s no shortage of equipment/rental sales reps, but there’s a shortage of diesel technicians. Yet the industry leadership continues to ask aloud, ‘why can’t we find more technicians?’

There’s been a huge uptick in the younger generation pursuing software engineering careers.  Why?  Two key factors:  there’s a growing demand for the role and it pays extremely well.  Our company employs software engineers. The market rate for software engineers is $85-$120 per hour.  I’d bet the “teach your kids to code” movement wouldn’t be nearly as popular if $30-$40 per hour was the going rate for those jobs.  I haven’t even begun to delve into the job environment!  Diesel technicians work in harsh conditions (extreme temperatures), it’s physically demanding, and high stress.  Hey, it’s mid July in Arizona/Florida/Texas/Louisiana, we need you under this wheel loader for 8 hours today getting filthy, and we’ll pay you $27 per hour. Repeat the same thing tomorrow, and the day after…Maybe two years from now, we’ll bump you to $32 per hour. And we wonder why more people aren’t signing up for this? It’s now well documented that UPS drivers earn up to $49 per hour!  

The market demand is clearly there.  The overall equipment market continues to grow YOY, creating an even larger supply of machinery that will break down. Do we really collectively believe that there’d be a shortage of diesel technicians if there was a path to earning $200,000 per year?  Imagine that marketing campaign.  Here’s a career path that doesn’t require boatloads of college debt AND the ability to earn $200k+ annually.  Or, we can continue regurgitating the same talking points for another 20 years and just wish things would be different.  I know what path we’re taking at Heave.