Big Guns for the Big Engines: What it Takes to be a Commercial Truck Service Tech

It’s no exaggeration to say that commercial trucks keep America moving. And the nation’s commercial fleet could not keep moving without specialized service technicians like the team featured in NADA’s latest Workforce Initiative video.

Kenworth of Louisiana began in 1968 as a family-owned business serving the commercial truck industry throughout the state of Louisiana and beyond. Today, under the leadership of owner Jodie Teuton, Kenworth of Louisiana is a full-service dealership with locations in Baton Rouge, Houma, Lafayette, Lake Charles, Monroe, New Orleans and Shreveport.

“We want to be the employer of choice. We provide well-paying jobs that support families and communities. The quality of our operations rests in the teams we build,” Teuton said.

Excited for the Next Challenge

The team at Kenworth of Louisiana includes Henry Fitch and Zach Opperman, service technicians at the Baton Rouge location. They both grew up getting their hands inside of engines whenever they could.

“Growing up a lot of my friends rode four wheelers and dirt bikes and I got to be the mechanic,” Opperman said in the video.

“The first truck I bought, I started doing some board joints and all of this, and I was like, ‘You know what? I want to do this in the automotive field.’ Then it clicked: the diesel side. Big trucks, big motors,” said Fitch, a self-confessed “engine guy.”

Fitch received his training at the Baton Rouge Community College’s Diesel Heavy Truck Technology program. The two-year program includes specialized classroom instruction and practical shop experience to prepare for service and maintenance of all types of medium and heavy trucks and covers everything from diagnosis of malfunctions and the repair of engines to fuel, electrical, cooling, and brake systems to drive train and suspension systems.

Both Fitch and Opperman said they like the fact that every day at Kenworth of Louisiana provides a different set of challenges and a sense of end-of-the-day satisfaction when the job is done well. “Every day I just wake up and I’m excited for the day. It’s like I’m ready for the new challenge I’m gonna face, and I like seeing the truck leave and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I did that. It’s good to go.’”

One day Opperman could be overhauling an engine, another day he could be working on an air conditioning system, he said. “What I like about the job is not every day is the same,” Opperman said. “It’s fun. Towing a truck when it’s not running, you bring it into the shop and you get to play with it and figure out what happened, and why this failed, how it failed and then, at the end of the day you get to drive it out versus having to push it back into the shop.”

Setting the Standard for Commercial Truck Service

Every day millions of commercial trucks move an average 49.3 million tons of freight valued at more than $52.5 billion across the United States, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

With those kinds of numbers under its wheels, the nation’s fleet of commercial trucks also need a lot of maintenance and repairs and a slew of skilled technicians to provide those services.

Yet almost every one of the more than 2,200 commercial truck dealerships in the U.S. are facing an immediate technician shortfall. With a whole generation of current technicians retiring and commercial trucks becoming more technologically advanced, the industry needs thousands of skilled people. In fact, there will be nearly 304,000 diesel mechanic and technician jobs in the nation by 2024, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates.

“For years, truck dealerships around the nation have struggled with a technician shortage that threatens the health of our businesses and local economies,” Teuton said.

That need for technicians is driving a hiring boom. A visit to the careers section of Kenworth of Louisiana’s website shows that Teuton has multiple openings for experienced technicians at seven of her eight locations.

Commercial truck service technicians at Kenworth of Louisiana must have one to two years of diesel mechanic experience (or be a trade school graduate) and OEM certifications. In return, they receive a competitive wage (many earn $60,000 a year), generous benefits including a 401k with employer match, paid holidays and time off, performance incentives, career advancement opportunities and paid training.

“The training is never-ending. There are schools that techs have to travel to all over the country. There is online training. When Kenworth or Hino schedules classes we have to make sure to get spots for our people,” Teuton told TruckingInfo.com.

That ongoing training helps commercial truck service technicians Phu Lee and Coby Eslick stay on top of the ever-evolving industry changes. “Some of the challenges [of the job] are adapting to the new technology and all that—software changes, all the specs and everything. The company sends you to training to overcome that challenge,” said Eslick, who works at  Kenworth of Louisiana’s Harahan shop, located in the suburbs of New Orleans.

“These days with all the technology that’s in these trucks, everything’s electrical based,” said Lee, who does electrical diagnostics at the Harahan location. “They send us to a lot of training they want to keep us up to date with all the new technologies coming out. You’ll see everybody goes to training about once a month to learn about the new systems coming out.”

Luckily, the Kenworth of Louisiana team works together to get the job done, even while some members are out getting training. “Man, I’ve got a great team. I love my team,” said technician Eric “Peanut” Smith.