Big Equipment, Bigger OpportunitiesBy Martin Slagter
Article Date: 04-01-2008
Copyright(C) 2008 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.
The nation's only four-year Heavy Equipment Technology program places 100 percent of students.
Editor's Note: Following is an article that appeared in a December edition of the "Pioneer" newspaper in Big Rapids, Mich. Ferris State University, the focus of the piece, is one of 19 AED Foundation-accredited technical schools - today the Foundation enables 400 skilled technicians to graduate every year from its accredited schools nationally, but that output is about to triple in the coming four years.The Foundation is on track to achieve its Vision 2012 goal to increase the number of accredited technical schools to 30; it also intends to establish Alliance partnerships with 40 additional technical schools that, with local AED dealer assistance, are working toward meeting AED's national technical standards. CED magazine is proud to turn the spotlight on Ferris State's outstanding work, and on The AED Foundation's unwavering commitment to repopulating the technician workforce for AED factory-authorized dealerships. We gratefully acknowledge the Pioneer's permission to reprint staff reporter Mark Slagter's story. When Ferris State University senior Adam Wells marches across the stage to accept his diploma from Ferris State University on Dec. 15, his thoughts won't be about sending out cover letters, resumes and searching the help wanted ads. Wells will have a job waiting for him thanks to his bachelor's degree in Heavy Equipment Technology.Despite the lackluster economic climate in Michigan, the program, which consists of just over 100 students, consistently places 100 percent of its graduates, with an average four-year graduate's salary beginning at more than $51,000 a year.Wells received job offers from three different companies prior to graduation. He decided to take a position as a field service technician at Cummins Bridgeway in Grand Rapids, where he will specialize in performing maintenance on generators for everything from small homes to hospitals to water treatment plants."I knew coming into college that there was a market for jobs like these," Wells said. "I was a little surprised by the number of positions I was offered, though. Some of the companies offered to reimburse tuition, and others guaranteed positions in the field."But Wells isn't the only one on employers' wish lists. The FSU College of Technology, which provides 40 different degrees and certificate programs has an overall placement rate of 99 percent according to a graduate follow-up survey summary done by the university."We're consistently ranked as one of the two largest Colleges of Technology in the country along with Purdue (University)," FSU College of Technology president and interim vice president for Academic Affairs Tom Oldfield said.Wells said he believes FSU students are in demand because employers are interested in well-rounded workers who grasp a wide-range of knowledge and have the people skills necessary to deal with customers."It's different than a regular technical specialty school. You [also] get the university experience," Wells said. "You don't just work on trucks all day. The field is getting a lot more technological, and Ferris' program gets you ready in so many different areas."But even with high placement rates and ideal beginning salaries, the line of prospective employers isn't shrinking."For every student graduating from Ferris, there are nine or 10 employers waiting for them with a job offer," said Jeff Amo, Cummins Bridgeway director of power generation operation and rental equipment. "I'll say this: I could use about eight power generation technicians right now."Amo said he believes there aren't many students enrolling in programs like Heavy Equipment Technology or aware of the opportunities available in its demanding market."Ferris used to be backlogged with students on a waiting list to get into the program," Amo said. "Unfortunately, private schools do a better job marketing those programs. Ferris was founded on a lot of those vocational programs, but they've gotten away from that a little bit."Oldfield believes the problem doesn't lie in how FSU is marketing the programs, but in the amount of interest students have shown."We're marketing as much if not more than any department at Ferris in the College of Technology," Oldfield said. "We visited more than 300 high schools last year, including a number of career technical centers and business industries to promote these outstanding programs."Oldfield added that the College of Technology has become more aggressive in the recruiting process by creating promotional DVDs, MySpace pages and brochures that make students aware of the opportunities available in these industrial fields."The manufacturing industry is getting kind of a bum rap right now because of the economy," Oldfield said. "But we've talked with a lot of these manufacturers, and that's simply not the case."FSU president David Eisler agreed, adding that the biggest problem lies in a lack of awareness for programs like Heavy Equipment Technology."One of the challenges is attracting students into careers like these," Eisler said. "It's a great career, but they have to have that interest. Students are getting job offers before they graduate...it's amazing to see the opportunities that these students have coming out of college."Students may be coming around to the idea of working in a field like Heavy Equipment Technology, however, according to FSU Heavy Equipment Technology professor Gary Maike. This year's freshman class consists of 45 students, compared to a usual class total of around 30."We've been working with the National Fleet Managers Association in putting together a minor in fleet management," Maike said. "We're doing this so some of the students who have a business major can get involved in this field. It brings in a whole new pull of students."As the economy continues to struggle, I think students are being a lot more critical of what they're deciding to go to school for," he said. "I think programs like [Heavy Equipment Technology] become a lot more attractive when they see the opportunities that are out there. We're steadily picking more students up every year."The Heavy Equipment Technology program consists of a two-year associate's and four-year bachelor's degree. The two-year program consists of all the basic courses students need to learn in Heavy Equipment Technology including maintenance, electronics, hydraulics, diesel engines and fuel systems. The four-year bachelor's degree equips students with more advanced courses like advanced hydraulics, failure analysis and advanced fuel systems. Students receive three hours of lectures and three hours of lab time each week for each class.Heavy Equipment Technology Department chair Keith Cripe said the university's decision to add a bachelor's degree is one of the reasons companies are seeking out FSU students long before graduation."A lot of employers, even outside of this region, are reaching out to our students because it's so hard to find people with a bachelor's degree," Cripe said. "These guys are graduating at the right time with all of the baby boomers retiring within the next five years."In fact, the four-year degree in Heavy Equipment Technology is the only one of its kind in the country. Employers from Texas, Florida, California and even foreign countries like Germany have attended job fairs in an effort to recruit students who are enrolled in the Ferris program."I came here as an exchange student from Botswana, where I had a job working for the government," said student Mitsi Phala, who will graduate with a bachelor's degree in December. "They sent me here because this degree will teach me and allow me to do more in the area of management."Phala said he is impressed with the high-tech nature of the program."Most of the equipment we use here deals with computers and electronics," he said. "What I have learned here will open up a lot of opportunities for me, particularly in working with the diamond mines we are opening up in our country."Sophomore Dacey Beard has a dream of translating her bachelor's degree into becoming a foreman or fleet manager for a trucking company, and is well on her way after securing an internship with Cummins Bridgeway. She said she believes companies are interested in FSU students because of their commitment to going the extra mile to obtain a wide range of knowledge."I grew up on a farm and drove a truck until I was 21," she said. "I decided to go back to school at Ferris after I had a baby, and found out there are so many opportunities for me in this field."The idea that Heavy Equipment Technology students only work with their hands is probably the biggest misconception people have of the program, Cripe said."Most people think these guys are all just old-school mechanics," Cripe said. "What they don't realize is all of the technological advances that have been made in this field over the years."Oldfield agreed, adding that technology has evolved in many of the fields that students are studying."There's a perception that these professions only consist of crawling underneath machines and doing physical labor," Oldfield said. "Most of these fields are computerized with less of the old type of physical labor. Our students get the hands-on experiences, and then some."Going the extra mile and not limiting students to one specific area of education is one of the biggest reasons that FSU has earned the respect of companies who are eager to hire its workforce-ready students.In fact, Amo said Cummins Bridgeway's Grand Rapids division was built on the foundation of FSU Heavy Equipment Technology students."We have a lot of Ferris grads in middle management," Amo said. "The highly-skilled employee is very technically inclined compared to 25 years ago. "Having broader exposure in this field is an absolute must," he added. "I've got three FSU students who work in power generator industry. Their ability to pick up new things and progress into management positions typically is much higher than that of a vocational school student."Another benefit employers have found in FSU students is in the relatively small amount of training they need, said John Deere Equipment general services manager Kyle Huss."We've gotten pretty decent workers from other schools, but Ferris students tend to be a bit more well-versed in the technological aspects of the business," he said. "Their experience working with hydraulics puts them ahead of everyone else, because they're the only ones who are taught about that."For more information of the FSU Heavy Equipment Technology program, visit www.ferris.edu/heavyequipment. n
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