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What Do Diesel Technicians Need in 2023?

Learn how we are improving the tools and training for diesel technicians and putting powerful software in the hands of everyone in the industry.

Episode 281: What’s going on with diesel repair technicians in 2023? This episode features Tyler Robertson, CEO of Diesel Laptops as he explains the challenges diesel techs face and the opportunities ahead. We’ll discuss why there are fewer technicians due to early retirements and the pandemic, and how the trucking industry fosters stable and lucrative new careers. We’ll also tell you about programs like American Diesel Training Centers and WyoTech.

Tyler Robertson is the CEO and Founder of Diesel Laptops. In this episode, learn how we are improving the tools and training for diesel technicians and putting powerful software in the hands of everyone in the industry.

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Transcript of Episode

Jamie Irvine:

You are listening to The Heavy Duty Parts Report. I’m your host, Jamie Irvine, and this is the place where we have conversations that empower heavy-duty people. Welcome to the episode of The Heavy Duty Parts Report. If you are watching right now, you’re going to say, wait a minute. That’s not the Heavy Duty Parts Report Studio.

I’ve got with me, Tyler Robertson, returning guests from Diesel Laptops. I am on the road right now. We were just doing an interview and episode with amac. You’re going to hear that now we’re down the road at your studio. Tyler, thank you for opening up the DL Studio and letting us record an episode for The Heavy Duty Parts report.

Tyler Robinson:

Well, when I heard you were doing a South Carolina roadshow, obviously it makes sense to have you come in here and do this. And next time you come, we’re going to make you visit our new training center over in Columbia because Steven Majors behind the scene here has another studio set up over there as well. Awesome. So we’re all in studio. What’s a weird thing? We sold diagnostic tools, we got studios all over the place.

Jamie Irvine:

Makes sense. That’s right, that’s right. So in today’s conversation, what I really wanted to focus on, at The Heavy Duty Parts Report, we’re always concerned with talking about parts and talking about how that impacts the trucking industry, but the reality is if you don’t have someone there to install the part and diagnose the problem, you’re not going to really sell any parts, are you?

So technicians talking about that is the subject of today’s conversation. So first of all, Tyler, let’s just start with a little bit of an overview. Right now we’re recording, it’s the end of June, 2023. What’s the state of things for the diesel repair technician?

Tyler Robinson:

So we can talk unemployment or employment first or jobs that people are looking for. So it got really bad there during the peak of Covid, it went up, to on just Indeed alone, there were like 80,000 job postings and that’s just Indeed.

So people post on other websites and every job post sometimes went on multiple hires. Now that numbers, and what also happened with Covid is a lot of people left early. So when we entered Covid and left, there was a net loss of diesel technicians.

Jamie Irvine:

When you say they left early, you mean they were kind of on the bubble of retirement and then Covid hit and they just thought, you know what? I’m just going to hang up the tools.

Tyler Robinson:

Yeah you had that happen, that happened across the country for a lot of jobs. They retired early or people that had dual income houses went to one income house, take care of the kids. A lot of variables went in there, but you end up with less and all the schools are kind of cutting back, not doing decent tech programs either.

So the gap’s been getting worse and worse and worse for a lot of years. And it’s really frustrated me because I go to all these conventions and organizations and they always have the same stupid ideas. They’re always like, oh, we’re going to go talk to high schoolers

Jamie Irvine:

And then we’re going to talk to grade schoolers. Let’s go talk to preschoolers.

Tyler Robinson:

I heard the grade school thing from somebody the other day and I’m like, oh my God, there is no freaking way. First of all, there is no way you’re taking a high school kid who’s had 18 years of you’re going to college beating his head and going to a one hour show and tell and being like, I’m going to be a diesel tech. That is not happening at all. So to me, when there’s a big problem, it takes a lot more solutions.

The examples I always get is, I know there’s a couple of ’em doing it right now, but it really started with American Diesel training centers. We’re not going to send people to two year degrees and spend $40,000 and then kick ’em over to a dealership. We’re going to go put ’em in a 12 week class, teach ’em how to change oil and do the basics and then they can go train up from there. And we’re not going to go find high school and college kids.

We’re going to go find people in their twenties and thirties who probably weren’t the best students, didn’t really pay attention in class. All of a sudden they got reality of life. They got spouse, maybe they got a kid, two. And they have to have a solid career, not just a job. They need a career to go make money and better their lives. They need motivation now.

Jamie Irvine:

Then we were at Wyotech in Laramie, Wyoming a couple months ago, and The Heavy Duty Parts Report is proud to sponsor one student a year starting this October.

Their approach is very interesting. It’s a nine month course and it takes people and puts them into that working position instead of going to a two year program where they have to take unrelated course material just to get their degree.

Tyler Robinson:

Yeah, Wyotech’s been on my podcast as well. They do a terrific job. You also see at Polytechnic out West what they’re doing out there with high schoolers.

Unbelievable the amount of funding they get there to build those things, but they’re getting, at least they have a nice building, they’re getting kids interested in it and the parents are starting to accept like, oh wait, my son doesn’t have to go to two years or daughter and they can make a hundred grand. Like what the heck? They’re going to make more money than I do. It’s insane. Melissa, the Diesel Queen, she obviously works with us.

She’s been on your podcast. I mean, I think she bought a house when she was 23. It was something ridiculous. And the story she gives is her mom has three or four degrees and Melissa makes more money than her mom does. It didn’t go through all that. So it’s really unfortunate all the reasons we got here, but it is a problem that’s still needs more solutions.

Jamie Irvine:

We’re going to take a quick break to hear from our sponsors. We’ll be right back.

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Jamie Irvine:

Yeah. Okay. So that’s what I want to talk about. So we know that we have to keep working at recruiting and retaining people in the industry, but there’s got to be a technological solution that goes along with that effort.

So let’s move the conversation to that because one of the things that I see from the parts perspective all the time is the parts people. They’re trying to get the parts into the hands of the repair technicians. They’re trying to do that as efficient as possible, but there’s barriers that put undue pressure both on the parts counter and on the repair shop.

Tyler Robinson:

So you’re absolutely right. It’s the same thing we say over here. When there’s a complex problem, it means there needs to be multiple solutions to solve the problem. Number one is definitely talking about the problem, influencers like Melissa and Missy, all these people are talking about it and saying, this is a pretty cool thing.

Hey, women can do this job. That’s one piece of the puzzle. The other piece is like, well wait, what if we made all existing quarter million diesel technicians 10% more efficient? That’s 25,000 jobs, right?

So why do we focus on technology solutions to do that and where can we save technicians time in that repair process? Because today it is a problem. Shops are book logged for weeks and for the audience that doesn’t know this, shops love that because their technicians are busy, they’re flat rate, they can charge whatever they want, and they’re all making money on bonuses.

I was a service manager for years. I promise you this is the mentality. So the question is how do you make it more efficient? I think the journey with Diesel Laptops has been part of that. It’s been, at first it was, well, we need tools to hook up to do a bunch of things to all make, all models regardless.

And we kind of checked that box. But what we quickly found out was, well, once we had to teach ’em how to use the tool, and then we quickly found out they needed to repair information, so we had to go build that, but then they didn’t know how to do it. So it’d be like, well, I’m not connecting. Like, well go check your cam bus.

Do you have voltage? Do I have, how do I do that? You’re like, okay. But what that leads to is really they don’t, most technicians the majority, and I hate to say this service field, but it’s the truth, most of ’em don’t know how to properly diagnose and troubleshoot common systems.

They do it old school or they do the parts cannon at it, or they just kind of wing it. And it’s really unfortunate that that’s where we end up in and we see it all the time.

So an example I can give you is we have a couple of really big clients of ours that buy hundreds or thousands of these laptop kits from us and they pay us. We send trainers to their sites pretty much every day of the week and do training. And I’ve asked my guys, what do you do when you get there? You don’t have equipment.

You’re on an airplane. He’s like, oh. He goes, every time we go there, we go, where’s the things you can’t fix? And they always have like, that’s what we’re working on today. And they’re like, well, that’s been to three dealers and blah, blah, blah. And this dealer’s pointing at that dealer, the manufacturer, the engine one’s, the we’re like, we don’t care.

Let’s get hooked up to it. And every time without fail, our guys have that thing figured out. That’s awesome. And it’s not because they lacked the tool. They had the tool and it’s not because the place they sent it to had to lack, it was just they don’t know how to do it.

Jamie Irvine:

It’s not a lack of desire. Everyone wants to fix it.

Tyler Robinson:

They want to fix it.

Jamie Irvine:

They just don’t know how.

Tyler Robinson:

They don’t know how. So a good example, Mark, he’s one of our trainers. He was at this big mine up in Elco, Nevada, and these are these quarter million rock trucks and they had four of ’em parked and they have a full-time guy…

Jamie Irvine:

Like an A2 80C or something.

Tyler Robinson:

Just big ones. And they had a full-time employee from Caterpillar on site and a full-time employee from Cummins on site. That’s what they employ. They have just a massive amount of equipment. And they were like, those things have been sitting for two weeks. Mark out all four of ’em running up that day.

And they were like, it’s cheaper to call you to come out and train us than actually have a diesel technician here that can’t fix it anyway, because we’re coming back for more training here end of the season. So it’s hard to go upscale people and it’s really tough. And that’s the unfortunate thing.

And the other unfortunate thing is a lot of companies, especially small ones, are like, I can’t afford it. I’m like, what do you mean it’s not that expensive? No, no, no. We’re booked up for three weeks. I only got four techs. I send one to you. I’m getting nothing done. I’m not making any money. What am I going to do? And it’s like it’s, they’re caught in that game of cat in the mill. What do I do?

Jamie Irvine:

They’ve got a bunch of urgent things that need to be done this week, and yet this important thing of doing ongoing training continuously gets put to the back burner. So then it never happens.

Tyler Robinson:

So what this comes down to is training. It comes down to making diagnostic tools stupid easy and quick for people to solve the problems. So the one big innovation that we’re unleashing here in July, it’s never been done before and we’re super excited about it. And I’ve showed it to you, I’ve been talking about it for years. That’s one of the reasons I’m here.

Well, it took years to put it together and what it is, it’s fault code part number because today’s process for people in the repair process is a technician hooks one tool up to a piece of equipment, gets the fault code, then goes to a completely separate system and looks up the repair information and then goes to completely separate system or department to figure what part number needs to buy to fix it after you diagnosed it. And usually go to a fourth system, actually put the order in.

And that process, we’ve asked people the average time it takes to look up a parts? We know from when we’ve talked to customers, just that process of going from fault code to part number minimum an hour, usually more. And that’s been somebody has it in stock. If they don’t have it in stock and they’re making the phone calls and trying to find alternatives, that’s a whole another thing.

And what we built is basically in the tools itself, even our little tool coming out where we use a phone to go from, I plug my tool in, here’s the part number I need to buy to fix my truck and all the other aftermarket alternatives and less than three minutes. And to us, that’s a huge game changer, which saves a lot of time for a lot of people.

Jamie Irvine:

Yeah it is. And then if you can then have the ability to go to a parts distributor who has a really good robust e-commerce platform that has all of the data in there, they can just put that part number in, they can order it, that part number, they know when it’s coming, it’s going to be delivered.

They can then book that vehicle to be fixed. I mean, it just streamlines the whole thing. And the reality is, unless we can end to end solve some of those issues where we have a lack of efficiency right now, we’re never going to hire enough people to solve the problem. We can’t throw enough people at the problem because it’s an issue of inefficiency.

Tyler Robinson:

Yeah. I mean, I’ve been in shops most of my life, adult life, and I was a service manager. We had 30 technicians. I’ve been in all these shops, and there’s companies you can hire, come in and help you with your fixed ops and efficiencies. And one of the things they do in a shop, this is key advisors, the one line he always gives me is, and he gives us to new customers.

I will bet you everything in my wallet and a nice bottle of whatever, when I walk through that shop, not even 75% of your technicians are actually touching a truck. And they’re always like, no way. He goes, I have not lost the bet yet. Because they’re doing something else.

They’re doing paperwork. They’re sitting at the parts counter, they’re waiting for something, sweeping the floor, waiting for the next truck. They’re doing something besides working on the truck. And they start looking at like, well, why is that okay? Maybe they don’t need to walk to the parts counter, have the parts counter walk to them. Those guys are cheaper than the technician, right?

Technician charge $150 an hour, parts guy doesn’t cost that much. And they start looking at doing all these things to improve efficiency. So there’s processes in your repair environment. There’s technology solutions that are here today and there’s more that are coming. And again, that knowledge gap and it’s all those things need to happen. And by the way, those all lead to another word.

You mentioned retention, right? The more you train up people, the more they’re happy in their jobs, the better they execute. All of a sudden, another dollar an hour doesn’t look that great somewhere else, and people want to win.

Jamie Irvine:

So if they’re working in a winning environment where they feel like they’re doing a great job and getting things done, that’s hugely attractive to most people.

Tyler Robinson:

It is. There’s always the challenge now of a lot, especially small businesses, they work in their business and on their business and injecting new processes and new technology into a business that can be troublesome at best, unless it’s a big headache.

I even selling our diagnostic tools, our top tier stuff that was like pulling teeth in the beginning, why would I do that? I’m like, you don’t want one thing that hooks up to everything with no required annual fees.

Why would I want that? I got this thing that’s got 20 different programs on it. I’m like, okay, they all come around eventually. It takes time. There’s a learning curve there. But technology, technology and training, it’s all coming. It’s helping already.

Jamie Irvine:

One of the things that I wanted to talk about was, and we’ve highlighted this on the show before, but I love your diesel decoder because I think that that’s a tool that every parts counter should have because then when you have guys pulling up and they got a code, you could run out, plug it in, check the code, and now with fault code to part number, you can run back in and give the person the part.

Every parts counter in North America should have at least one at the counter, maybe multiple.

Tyler Robinson:

Oh yeah. You can walk out to the truck and plug it in and be like, here’s the part to sell you. Yeah. Yeah. A hundred percent agree. So the backstory on this little tool is I was so frustrated at it when Covid happened, we were like over budget, no clear direction, wasn’t happy with who was. I was just like, I hate this thing. And then Covid happened. I’m like, this is a great excuse to kill it. This thing is going to be dead to me. So why didn’t you?

Well, you know what happened is we actually work a lot with Dorman and they were willing to do distribution for us. I’m like, guys, I think I’m going to kill this. No, we see what this is. Let’s figure some things out. We’ll help you guys. We’re not set up. Diesel is not set up to go sell 10,000 of one thing.

We’re geared up to go sell a handful of $10,000 tools. So what happened in that is they really convinced me. They said, Nope, we’ll give you a PO for a bunch of ’em. You have to build them. Yeah. I was like, well, if I’ve got a PO, I guess we got to go do it now. But I look at that tool and today it really is amazing. I mean, literally it’s a little bit like a half dollar size, 350 bucks.

That tool will hook up, read codes, clear codes, we now have it doing, and it’ll do fault code depart number very shortly here. And then it does two other really cool things. One, we added a bunch of the DPF regens and reset commands to it. So now you can really do a regen from your phone on the DPF or any those resets.

And the other thing we’ve done is we’ve included what we call Diesel Health, which is basically the ability to do a pre and post scan on a vehicle and have all that information. Go to a website where you can log in and see every truck you’ve ever connected to in every scan. So it’s amazing what a little three tool does.

And one of our other reasons for wanting to kill it, we were like, well, this is going to take away sales in the $10,000 tools because the things we’re adding to this are the exact same questions people are calling about on the $10,000 tool.

And we were really concerned about eating our own lunch a little bit, but we just said, well, if it’s not us, it’ll be somebody else. So we might as well do this and figure it out.

Jamie Irvine:

Well, and things are always evolving, and so you’ve got to be able to meet the need where the need is. So I applaud you for doing that. I really can’t emphasize this enough.

Every parts counter should have at least one, drivers you should have one in your glove box repair shops. You want to take that $10,000 tool out in the rain to the yard, or do you want to just take diesel decoder to go out and do a quick check on a truck before you bring it into your shop? This has so many applications, so you’ve got to buy it.

Tyler Robinson:

It does. And I can tell the audience too, there’s some private label additions to that thing coming out now as well, because what we found is that tool actually works in a lot of off highway equipment. So now, because they use standard protocols and they use a nine pin, so that tool, we don’t market it like this way.

So it’s like for the audience here, but really it’ll work in John Deere, it’ll hook up and read the codes, do all the things. So a lot more coming with that little, I never thought a $350 tool would be something I get excited about, could do so much. Yeah. But I’m there now.

So yeah, it is on a lot of parts counters, Dorman has it, HDA Truck Pride locations have it. There’s some other distributors that have it out there as well. But a great little tool that if it doesn’t save you $350 bucks, like geez, nothing’s going to help you. Yeah,

Jamie Irvine:

That’s right. Well, thank you so much for opening up your studio, letting us record this interview with you, Tyler. So great to see you again and welcome back on the show. If people want to follow your show, the DL, where’s the best place for them to find it?

Tyler Robinson:

Yeah, just go to our website, go to the Learn section. They’ll see the link to the DL. I’m on LinkedIn. I still post on there quite a bit. I love LinkedIn. I love connecting with people. You build the best relationships in this business. That is the best and free networking tool that I’ve ever used for B2B.

Jamie Irvine:

Okay, so quick story for those who maybe are a little skeptical of the power of social media. So how did Tyler and I meet? Well, I did an episode. So I made content about diesel emissions systems, and I asked a question purposely to try to elicit people’s responses.

So I said, should you delete your diesel emissions system from your truck? And Tyler basically on LinkedIn messaged and said, no, you idiot, it’s illegal. And then I messaged back and said, well, now we’re talking. And that’s why I asked the question. He’s like, good point.

Tyler Robinson:

Well done. Good, sir. Well done.

Jamie Irvine:

Yeah. So then all of a sudden you come on the show, we make some more content together. And that was Episode 13, the first time you’re on The Heavy Duty Parts Report and the rest is history. We’ve had this long business relationship ever since, and I’m just so happy that I took that step.

So if you’re questioning whether or not this works, it absolutely does. You just have to kind of lead with a good intention, try to do your best to put out something of quality. And I’m not even talking production, I just mean the quality of the content you put out what you know, and people will respond, and you never know where it’s going to lead you.

Tyler Robinson:

Yeah. People always ask me, Tyler, how many views you do? I’m LinkedIn. I’m like, oh, it’s super easy. You just post relevant traffic like three times a week for the next five years.

Jamie Irvine:

Yeah, that’s it. Just five years. Well, you’ve been listening to The Heavy Duty Parts Report. I’m your host, Jamie Irvine. We are on location in South Carolina at the Diesel Laptop studio. Thank you so much again for opening the studio. And if you want to find out more about everything that Diesel Laptops does, go to diesellaptops.com. As always, I want you to keep being heavy-duty.

Thank you for watching. And don’t forget, if you want to subscribe to our show, head over to heavydutypartsreport.com. You can follow the show for free there. Check us out on YouTube. You can also follow the show for free wherever he gets your podcast. Be heavy duty people. Talk to you soon.

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