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Orlando projects make diesel mechanics hot commodity

Diesel engine instructors at Universal Technical Institute ready a diesel engine for a refrigerated trailer for student lessons.
Diesel engine instructors at Universal Technical Institute ready a diesel engine for a refrigerated trailer for student lessons. (Teresa Burney)

Potential employers in need of diesel mechanics started showing up at Universal Technical Institute (UTI) looking for diesel technicians even before the Orlando trade school announced its new diesel mechanics training programs, which started in January with more than 120 students.

"If there was any doubt in my mind [that there would be demand] it was quashed then," said Steve McElfresh, president of UTI's Orlando school.

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The school's recent open house and job fairs netted employers who said they needed a number of diesel mechanics right away. One event turned into a free-for-all among potential employers who started pitching their companies to students as the best places to go to work.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there will be 75,200 new diesel service technicians' between 2012 and 2022. And the demand appears to be even greater in the Orlando area because of projects like the I-4 Ultimate rebuild, SunRail, and Lynx, which all rely heavily on diesel-powered engines, said McElfresh.  As demand is ramping up, baby boomer diesel technicians are retiring, he said.

The average wage in 2012 for diesel service technicians and mechanics was $42,320 a year.

In addition to construction equipment, diesel engines also power buses, tractor-trailers, and the air conditioners that keep cargo cold as the trucks travel across the country. Then there are the diesel engines used in manufacturing plants, such as forklifts. And, of course, Disney is a heavy user of diesel-powered devices. Plus large boats, including cruise ships are powered by diesel engines.

At UTI, students learn to work on engines and other components of diesel machinery, including hydraulics and electrical, by working on engines and other components set up as they would be in a repair shop. UTI teaches on International, Cummins, Freightliner, and Peterbilt components mounted and ready for the students to take them apart or diagnose problems using computer programs on laptops. There is even a simulated interior of a refrigerated trailer that students can train with. Potential employers advise UTI about what tools and procedures they use so that the students will be familiar with their specific needs when they are hired, McElfresh said.

The company also has a 75-week program that includes auto repair with the diesel courses.

tburney@growthspotter.com or 407-420 6261

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