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A judge watches a contestant during last year's SuperTech skills and knowledge competition. Such events are becoming more popular for recognizing young mechanics.

With capital budgets relatively frozen for the foreseeable future, a producer's fleet will definitely age. But this isn't the only problem with the passing of time.

Recent surveys show that people taking care of our fleets are getting older. Fewer young people are entering this segment of the workforce. And those who are in it are retiring.

So do you know where you are going to find your next vehicle mechanic?

Managers may find it easy to advertise for and hire truck mechanics now that the economy is in trouble. But like all recessions, the current downturn will not last forever. When things get better, it will be difficult to find people with skills to work on highly specialized ready-mix trucks that sit on truck chassis and trailers.

There could be some hope ahead. The Obama administration has indicated that along with funding infrastructure and construction projects, it will place a renewed emphasis on vocational training.

Producers can help with this training initiative by working with secondary schools and post-secondary schools (community colleges) in their areas to promote manual arts training.

To attract future employees, set up internships and tuition reimbursement programs in your shops. If your shops are unionized, coordinate with union leaders to make sure they see this as a tie-in with their own apprenticeship programs and a chance for mutual benefit.

SkillsUSA, SuperTech

You can support and use national organizations as fertile recruiting ground. An excellent way to identify and attract the best and brightest is to become involved with SkillsUSA. Its annual national, state, and local competitions have contestants cycle through 14 testing stations involving electronics, engines, wiring chassis, drive trains, hydraulic systems, brakes, and more. One of the most comprehensive programs is Diesel Equipment Technology.

Sponsorship opportunities in these competitions abound. For little cost, you can provide vehicles, volunteer judges, or provide meals or materials. What better way to make a positive impact on the future employees you will want in your shops.

Motivation must go beyond recruiting. Several studies show that recognition is more important than pay in creating job satisfaction. That's why technician competitions are growing in popularity, as witnessed by the increase in entrants in the Technology and Maintenance Council's annual SuperTech skills and knowledge competition.

For the past few years, I've been privileged to be a juror for the Technician of the Year award, sponsored by Bendix, Dayton Parts, Haldex, Mahle, and SKF. The high skill levels of the people maintaining our trucks always amazes me. The supervisor describes the mechanic's work history, training, and contributions to his company and community, and states why the entrant should be selected using a six- to seven-page entry form. For more information, visit www.techoftheyear.com.

Companywide competitions can also motivate and recognize outstanding achievers. The best recognize all who participate and provide awards for improvement and achievement. When you do, please be sure to send us an announcement of the winners and photos.

Paul Abelson is a former director of the Technology and Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Association and is currently on the Board of Truck Writers of North America. E-mailtruckwriter@anet.com.