Interview for Diesel Mechanics

Rick Burnett is the coordinator of the Diesel Technology Program at Ashland Community and Technical College ( in Ashland, Kentucky. He discussed the field with the editors of Careers in Focus: Automotives.

Q. Please tell us about your program and your background.
A. The program is certified by the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation/National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE). It is a two-year program including a 10-credit summer term depending on the path taken. We offer two associate of applied science/general occupational technical studies degrees--one in construction equipment technology and the other in medium/heavy truck technician. We also offer diplomas in these areas and in farm machinery technician along with 12 certificates. The program covers all aspects of repair (powertrain, engines, antilock brake systems (ABS), electrical, steering and suspension, hydraulics, preventive maintenance, and troubleshooting). There are two instructors in our program. I am an ASE master certified auto and medium/heavy truck technician, but my main background is construction equipment as I worked on strip mining for about 14 years and have been teaching about 21 years. The other instructor, Shannon McCarty, has about 14 years of experience with trucks and construction equipment and has his certification in medium/heavy truck.

Q. What is one thing that young people may not know about a career in diesel technology?
A. This can be a very rewarding career. We often see technicians making in excess of $100,000. We have moved into the computer age where everything on the trucks and equipment is computer controlled (i.e., engine controls, ABS brakes, load sensing steering, and transmission controls). There is a shortage of trained technicians, and it is only getting worse. Large shops are recruiting electricians, automotive technicians, and others to try to keep up with the need for technicians.

Q. What types of students pursue study in your program?
A. Most of the students who do well in this career are those who like to work with their hands. They need to have good math skills and be able to read for information and comprehend the material to repair today's equipment. We get a lot of students from agriculture, welding, and automotive programs.

Q. What advice would you offer diesel technology majors as they graduate and look for jobs?
A. The construction equipment field pays better than the truck field, but you can make good money in either. Students need to do what they like and not worry as much about the money. There are plenty of opportunities in either field.

Q. What is the employment outlook in the field?
A. There is a shortage of technicians and a lot more are close to retirement age. Anyone willing to work in this field can make a good living with some job security. The shops around here are stealing the better techs by offering better money so it looks good for the younger people coming into the market.  

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