BRAMPTON, Ont. – When Vania Agostinho first considered a career as a heavy truck and coach technician, she thought trucks were “big dumb machines that you want to get away from because they’re slow.”
However, having embarked on a career as a technician – she’s currently a truck and coach apprentice with Carrier Centers – she thinks differently. “In reality, they’re so much more than that,” she said of her initial impressions. “Being a part of this industry has opened my eyes. I wish there was more exposure for kids in high school to learn about the industry.”
As a millennial, Agostinho is representative of the next generation of technicians who will be tasked with repairing and maintaining the next generation of increasingly complex trucks. She was part of a recent Fast Forward: The Future of Trucking event hosted by the CITT Toronto Area Council and Imperial Oil at Maritime-Ontario’s headquarters. Agostinho said she initially pursued an education in broadcasting and then found work at a brake bending factory before returning to school to pursue a career that was more to her liking. She said it’s important young people get an accurate portrayal of the industry and the profession.
“When you talk to people about the industry…they tell you, it’s heavy lifting. It’s this and that. You’re a girl and you’re going to be constantly dirty. So you get a lot of negative comments that affect the way you think. For me, I put it off and I did a lot of factory jobs and they were things that weren’t fulfilling to me,” she said.
To find people like Agostinho, Marc Poland, maintenance manager with Sheehan’s Truck Centre, said his organization has had to be more creative in reaching out to them and to respond more quickly than in the past.
“There is a huge shortage of technicians this industry is dealing with,” he said. “We need to make sure if we’re posting an ad that we get it on as many computers or smart devices as we can. If you manage to get the contact information of a technician, you need to follow up quickly. In the past, you could send a follow-up e-mail. That’s not quick enough anymore. Now we’re to the point where you are texting to set up interviews with technicians.”
Poland believes in visiting high schools and getting students into the trucks.
“It’s getting in front of them and making them aware our industry even exists,” he explained. He’s also a big believer in investing in apprentices and doesn’t like to see poaching from competitors.
Jim Pinder, corporate fleet director with the Erb Group of Companies, said the traditional source of mechanics – family farms – have practically disappeared.
“As an industry, we need to change out thought process as per where we’re getting these people from,” Pinder said.
As trucks become more complex, Poland said more specialized technicians are required.
Automated transmissions, disc brakes and collision mitigation systems are some of the technologies fleets are increasingly investing in, and all bring additional maintenance challenges.
Paul Kudla, regional vice-president with Volvo Trucks North America, said remote diagnostics are helping by assisting technicians with troubleshooting before the truck even breaks down.
“We know what’s wrong with the truck before you do,” he said. “Our big goal with remote diagnostics was to reduce downtime.”
With remote diagnostics, fault codes are sent for analysis to Volvo’s Uptime Center in Greensboro, N.C. From there, the fleet manager is advised on the best course of action, including the closest dealership with the required parts.
“I’m receiving e-mails from my trucks, telling me they have a potential problem,” said Pinder.
The next big advance the trucking industry will see could involve further automation, whether through multi-truck platoons or self-driving trucks. Kudla said platooning will be seen in the near future while autonomously driven trucks are further into the future – and he hopes the driver is never completely replaced. The prospects of working on self-driving trucks or trucks that travel in platoons is exciting to Agostinho, if a little unnerving.
“I would be lying if I said it didn’t scare me a little bit,” she admitted. “I’m going to be in the middle of it all, hopefully. But it’s exciting at the same time. The evolution of trucking you see from 20 years ago to trucking 20 years from now, it’s so different and to be a part of that, it’s going to be rewarding.”