If there is one COVID-19-related issue that has come into sharp focus, it is the importance of the supply chain to our way of life.
Delays in the supply chain hit our wallets, our projects, and our last nerves.
Major player in the supply chain are well-maintained diesel trucks and machines that keep products moving from place to place, efficiently and effectively. “Diesel plays a critical role in Utah’s infrastructure,” says Rachelle Ackley, program manager of Talent Ready Utah. “Transportation, agriculture, construction and other industries are powered by diesel technology. It’s an integral part of our state’s greater ecosystem.”
However, in order to keep these machines moving it takes skilled, professional diesel technicians. Unfortunately, estimates from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that 67,000 highly trained technicians and 75,000 more diesel engine professionals are needed to fill vacancies in the commercial trucking sector.
To help fill this void locally, in 2017 the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) partnered with Salt Lake Community College, Jordan and Canyons School Districts and industry professionals to create Utah Diesel Tech Pathways (UDTP).
“We are creating a pipeline of talent,” says Kyle Treadway, president of Kenworth Sales Company and chair of the UDTP executive committee. “The programs we are organizing, funding and replicating are building momentum. As young, career-minded technicians fill our ranks, the public image of diesel technology will evolve and the ‘funnel end’ of our pipeline should widen.”
UDTP utilizes educational institutions, industry professionals and government officials to provide opportunities for the next generation of technicians to receive the experience necessary to meet the high industry demands.
“Each partner has a very important role,” says Nate Collings, diesel instructor with Mountainland Technical College. “Mine is to train students and get them the knowledge to be useful in industry. Industry has the positions to help the students learn hands-on and further education with on-the-job training and paying them to learn. Government offices are a big supporter of helping expand the program.”
For its part, Geneva Rock has numerous professionals working with the program and the company has donated money and equipment as a major sponsor.
“We have also worked to get in front of the students while they are in school,” says Ryon Allen, parts purchasing manager for Geneva Rock. “We talk with the instructors about the challenges we’re seeing in the industry. We’re also assisting with the soft skills these students need.”
While causes of shortages like the one facing industries requiring diesel technicians can be complicated and hard to pin down, almost all agree that many students (and parents) are less interested in vocational classes — especially in high schools.
“Students and parents need to know that this is a great career and pays well,” says Russ Johnson, area equipment superintendent at Geneva Rock. “People may not realize it, but diesel trucks and construction equipment are high-tech. They have computer-controlled systems. It’s a challenging and rewarding career.”
UDTP operates in six regions throughout the state, with Geneva Rock being especially involved with the Utah County area. Torrie Costantino, formerly with UVU, was instrumental in getting the Utah County group up and running.
In 2018, UVU received a grant from Talent Ready Utah to expand UDTP into Utah County. Torrie managed the grant, organized an advisory board and put together promotional materials to get the word out about the program.
“UDTP is so unique because it is truly industry-driven, rather than education pushing industry to work together,” Torrie says. “With the shortage of diesel techs in Utah — and data showing that it was going to get worse — everyone came together and created pathways to help mitigate the shortage.”
Since coming to Utah County in 2018, the UDTP program has expanded to all three major school districts: Alpine, Provo, and Nebo.
Students at Mountainland Technical College, UVU and other state post-high school institutions are also offering additional educational opportunities that open doors to higher-paying jobs.
“We need to convince parents, students and counselors that today’s diesel technology is not a low-paid, greasy thankless job,” Kyle says. “It’s a respectable, challenging and life-long career. Trucks today are really computers on wheels. And the skill set needed to care for them requires not just mechanical aptitude, but sophisticated IT knowledge and a forensic mindset. That message needs to be broadcast across the state.”
As word gets out about the opportunities available as a diesel technician, industry professionals, government officials and educators are hopeful the supply chain will be fully stocked — with materials and goods as well as the technicians to keep trucks running.