How to Become a Diesel Mechanic in 2021
Note: Updated on 11/30/2020 to review the vital importance of diesel technician towards the economy & wellbeing of the nation during the pandemic.
The Pandemic of 2020 showed us that the diesel mechanic is not just a valuable non-outsourceable skill, but that diesel mechanics are themselves essential personnel. The trucks that carry supplies across the nation, first-responder vehicles like ambulances and fire trucks, and crucial hospital back-up generators all have one thing in common – they are completely dependent on the vital skill of the diesel mechanic.
By learning how to become a diesel mechanic, you are entering an industry that is vital to the national economy, and rewarding as a profession. Interstate commerce would grind to a halt if the millions of diesel powered trucks and refrigerated containers stopped moving. The continued maintenance of diesel engines is a necessary component of a successful transportation system. The mechanics who fix these engines are at the heart of keeping the industry moving. The diesel technician trade is a combination of mechanical knowledge, technical know-how, and sounds reasoning skills.
4 Steps to Become a Diesel Mechanic
- Graduate high school or earn the GED equivalent - Not only will most employers not hire someone without a high school diploma, you’ll need at least the skills learned in high school math and science for a better understanding of complex subjects such as diesel engine controls, electrical systems and fuel injection systems.
- Train at a trade school that specializes in diesel mechanics - Where you receive your training is very important – look for a technical school whose diesel instructors have significant real-world experience fixing diesel trucks and diesel-powered equipment. There is no replacement for experience and the ability for the knowledgeable instructor to communicate clearly. This is essential to the learning process.
- Find employment as an entry-level diesel mechanic - Landing your first diesel mechanic job is a milestone in your career. A clean, orderly appearance is just the beginning – this needs to extend to the care and organization of your tools and work manuals. Careful handling of expensive equipment is a must. Remember, the engines you are working on are an expensive investment by the customer you are serving – treat them with the utmost care.
- Continue improving your skills – Never stop learning. Technology changes and you must adapt quickly. As vehicles become more complex, your ability to keep up and exceed expectations is the key to continuing success in an ever-changing field. Read industry literature, study manuals and tinker with spare equipment in your free time – you’ll pick up valuable skills and ideas.
What Skills Must a Diesel Mechanic Learn?
Diesel technicians need to be able to diagnose a complex issue. It should then come as no surprise that a journeyman diesel mechanic needs to become proficient in not only in the principles of the diesel power cycle, they also need strong skills in diagnostics, electrical systems, alternative fuels and refrigeration systems.
Mastering Electrical Systems
Electrical and electronic systems are at the heart of today’s diesel-powered machines. Computer systems and software programs control modern fuel injection systems, ignition systems, diagnostic checks, and a lot more. Lincoln Tech’s diesel program graduates will have a solid grasp on the essentials of electronic systems, so they can get right to work on these complex on-board computer networks when they start their careers.
Learning Engine Control Diagnostics
When something goes wrong with a vehicle’s performance, chances are a computer-generated scan code will need to be read. These diagnostic codes let a diesel technician know where the problem stems from, and offer clues on how to start the troubleshooting and repair process. A working knowledge of diagnostic codes is expected for practically any new diesel mechanic or technician entering the field.
Transport Refrigeration Is a Vital Skill
Transport refrigeration courses like those offered at Lincoln Tech’s South Plainfield, NJ campus can help you expand your career possibilities when you graduate. Industry leaders like Thermo-King look for graduates whose skills include basic refrigeration system maintenance and repair to complement their diesel mechanic skills. Transport refrigeration systems also come with their own intricate electrical and electronic systems, all of which are covered during training.
Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) Will Continue to Increase in Importance
With alternative fuel technology like CNG driving the diesel industry towards a more environmentally-friendly future, technicians who enter the workforce having trained on CNG technology may find themselves ahead of the curve. CNG systems are already in use across the country by leading employers including UPS, Waste Management and more. Lincoln Tech’s Denver, CO campus includes Alternative Fuel Technology classes as an optional component to Diesel Technology training.
A Great Diesel Mechanic Can Also Be a Proficient Welder
Diesel mechanics are often called on to perform welding procedures on parts of a vehicle’s frame or body. Diesel Technology training programs usually include hands-on practice in individual welding booths, so you can perfect this part of your craft before entering the job market.
Hiring Managers Look for Strong Work Ethic, Communication & Problem-Solving skills
Lincoln Tech’s Career Services specialists know what employers are seeking, because they’re in contact almost daily with hiring managers. Jennifer Nunes, Director of Career Services at Lincoln Tech’s East Windsor campus, points out strong communication skills, an excellent work ethic, and creative problem-solving as qualities hiring managers want to see. These skills, she adds, can be honed in the field prior to graduation. Part of Lincoln Tech’s Career Services support is helping arrange part-time employment for students, with schedules that work around their classes and other commitments.
Getting to experience life as a diesel technician firsthand helps students develop a professional mentality, and employers, in turn, get to see a potential employee’s skills up close before making a job offer. It works well for both parties involved.
“We also coordinate tours and field trips to local diesel companies, and bring employers on campus for presentations and interview days,” Nunes adds. “Companies such as Ryder, Camerota, and FedEx Freight have been known to work with our students’ schedules to help them gain experience in the field – experience they need to be a successful in their careers. This all contributes to the high placement rates our diesel graduates enjoy after their Lincoln Tech training (88% of Diesel and Truck Technology graduates from the East Windsor campus were hired in 2019**).
Mackenzie Moran, Director of Career Services at Lincoln Tech’s South Plainfield campus, also cites students’ field experience as a key to getting hired right out of school. “Three of our most successful recent graduates – all women – were working in the field prior to graduation,” Moran says. “Two employers – PSE&G and New Jersey Transit – made offers to the students so that positions would be waiting for them as soon as they graduated.”
There Is a Shortage of Diesel Mechanics Nationwide
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the diesel mechanic field will grow from 285,300 positions in 2018 to 299,100 positions by 2028, a solid 5% growth rate*. Industries including construction, transportation, agriculture, mining and more have immediate openings for diesel technicians, and Nunes says that employers aren’t shying away from talking about the continued need for skilled candidates. “The need is huge for diesel technicians and mechanics,” she says. “Employers can’t find new diesel technicians fast enough.”
Hiring partners from coast to coast all say they’re on the lookout for talented new diesel technicians, and turn to schools like Lincoln Tech to find the candidates they need. “No one wants to get their hands dirty these days” says Tom Commorato, General Manager of Thermo King East for more than 40 years - “The industry is hurting for professionals.”
Another New Jersey employer, Bill McAnally of Miller Truck Leasing, explains how many employers in the industry aren’t just looking for people with the skills to do the job today – they want leaders who they can develop for future company success. “We’re looking to hire [not only] technicians from Lincoln Tech, we’re looking for future managers. We need future leaders in our company, and a good background and good training will enable them to advance their careers relatively quickly.”
Further west, Lincoln Tech’s Denver campus counts Waste Management – one of the country’s largest waste and environmental services companies – among its most engaged partners. Gabrielle Duran, Waste Management’s Talent Acquisition Advisor, explains why the organization turns to Lincoln Tech’s Denver campus for technicians to service their fleets.
“I know exactly what I’m getting with a Lincoln Tech grad,” Duran says. “We’ve had great success with our Technician Apprentice Program. Students attend classes at Lincoln Tech and work here 20 hours a week. Lincoln Tech’s Career Fairs are a great place to meet potential employees. We can get a sense of whether a student will be a good fit for us before inviting them to come in for an interview”.
This is the perfect time to start exploring ways to get onto this valuable and rewarding career field. For further details, please see our Diesel Technician Career page.
* Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Diesel Service Technicians and Mechanics, on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/installation-maintenance-and-repair/diesel-service-technicians-and-mechanics.htm (visited January 09, 2020).
** As reported to the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC) in the campus’ 2019 G&E Report.