The Relationship Factor By Mary Sedor
Article Date: 11-01-2008
Copyright(C) 2008 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.
Earlier this year, The AED Foundation launched an ambitious plan to reverse the decade-long workforce shortage and repopulate highly qualified technicians into the job pool. Dubbed “Vision 2012,” this strategic program continues to build The Foundation’s community-based, school-to-work program through partnerships with dozens of post-secondary heavy diesel/technical schools across the country. The goal: to add 1,200 ready-to-work graduates per year launching into technical careers at dealer service departments nationwide. The AED Foundation plans to accomplish this goal by increasing the number of AED Accredited schools, or those that meet rigorous curriculum standards established by distributor technical efforts. While AED sponsors the development of these standards, they are a product of the industry – created by dealers, manufacturers and technical colleges. To supplement the number of schools accredited, the AED Foundation also created a new Alliance partnership program for schools that, with local AED dealer assistance, are working toward meeting AED’s national technical standards. The Alliance program is based on the technical standards, but enables schools to be recognized without having fully met all the accreditation standards. A local task force of area technical schools and dealers is created to determine a subset of standards for the Alliance school, based on dealer need. It’s the local dealers that recommend schools for alliance status.Currently the Foundation has 20 accredited schools and two alliance schools – Central Lakes College in Staples, Minn. and Minnesota State Community and Technical College (MSCTC) in Moorhead, Minn.“Our strategy is community-based, school-to-work programs,” said Steve Johnson, executive director of The AED Foundation. “We are looking for a local approach to dealers growing their own technicians.”
Here’s the catch – AED can’t do it alone. Dealers must get involved with their local technical schools in order for this ambitious plan to thrive. “None of this happens without the dealers supporting it,” said Johnson. Don Shilling, president of General Equipment & Supplies in Fargo, N.D., and recent AED Foundation past Chairman, said The AED Foundation’s Alliance program was started because of the fact that there are dealers that don’t have the relationship they should have with their local schools. “We felt the allied program gave them that opportunity to try to develop some kind of relationship and work their way into the fabric of that school to get them headed into the right direction and producing technicians with the right stuff,” he said. “Without dealer involvement the school doesn’t know any better.”
Shilling says that tech schools generally welcome communication from dealers. “When you sit down with your local school, they really want to produce the graduates from their programs that are work-ready,” he said. “Sometimes it just takes a little more direction from us. Unfortunately, a lot of schools are very small and only have one or two instructors, so they need someone to spend time now and then reviewing their programs and getting them on the right track.” Dan Gunderson, diesel instructor at Central Lakes College and member of The AED Foundation’s technical training committee, says that schools strive to achieve the accreditation. “It means more to the program to be accredited,” he said. “It proves to your local administration that the industry accepts you and thinks you’re doing things right. And when the state legislatures are looking at budget cuts, if your school is accredited by industry it pulls some weight.”Central Lakes College works with AED’s North Dakota local group chapter. Gunderson attends the local group’s quarterly meetings to discuss how the program is going and any changes they are planning to do. While the North Dakota AED group does help by providing deals on purchasing equipment and access to technical information, Gunderson says there is still more the local dealers can do to help. “We need more equipment in order to keep our instructors and the diesel program up to date with technology,” said Gunderson. “We need to borrow equipment because a lot of times schools can’t afford to buy a $150,000 motor grader. A lot of times dealers have one that hasn’t been moving on the lot. Loan it to us so our students can see the most current technology.” Get Local
Titan Machinery, a Case IH and New Holland dealer based in Fargo, N.D., works closely with MSCTC. Josh Koehnen, human resources specialist for Titan Machinery, says that all the dealers in the area are hoping the school will receive full accreditation from AED. “Receiving AED accreditation really makes the program stand above other programs in the area,” said Koehnen. “It’s a huge benefit. We’d like to see the school receive the accreditation because if they can get their education from a school accredited by AED it’s more beneficial to them.” Titan Machinery, which has 52 locations across North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska, has joined other equipment dealers in the North Dakota and Minnesota area in building strong relationships with their local technical schools.In fact, Titan Machinery sponsors students to attend the MSCTC program. Since Titan began its program in 2005, roughly 30 students have completed it. “It comes down to our local dealers in our local communities needing to go out and recruit students in high school,” said Koehnen. “We go into the high schools and tell the students all the benefits of working for Titan and what we could provide for them to go to school.”Once the student is interested in becoming a technician and working for Titan Machinery, the student must be interviewed. Provided the student qualifies, Titan then sponsors him or her. Typically the student works part-time in the dealership to get a good background of what’s going on in the shop. When the student starts school, Titan Machinery provides the student with a set of Snap-on tools and a toolbox, as well as tuition assistance for each semester. After a few weeks the student comes back and works in the shop using some of the newly acquired skills. During the course of the year, sponsored students spend time both at school and working with mentors in the shop. Students are required to work for Titan throughout the two years they are in school and for two years following graduation. Also, that tool kit Titan gave the student isn’t the student’s property until after (s)he completes the two-year required employment. “We do that so they have more of an obligation to work for us,” he said. The bottom-line reason Titan Machinery works with MSCTC: To grow their own technicians. Koehnen says Titan Machinery has studied where their technicians have come and gone, and they found that close to 80 percent of their technicians end up living 15 miles from where they grew up, which further emphasizes the need for acting locally. “In our industry service technicians have been one of the most difficult positions to fill,” said Koehnen. “We recognize that in order for us to really retain good service techs and to basically grow our own techs, we have to recruit local-area kids. Dealers really need to go out into their own communities.”
Koehnen says that while maintaining the relationship may be difficult and time consuming, it will definitely help dealers interested in gaining technicians. “Everyone benefits from these relationships – the dealerships, the schools and the employee will benefit too,” he said. “This is an ongoing relationship that needs to continue if a dealership wants to survive.” Get on Board
General Equipment & Supplies, a Komatsu dealer, works with three schools in the area, including North Dakota State College of Science (NDSCS), MSCTC and Central Lakes College. Of the three schools, General’s involvement is greatest with NDSCS, where Shilling has been on the advisory board for 15 years.“I didn’t know what to expect, but I had a laundry list of things I thought they should be focusing on,” he said. “I think they were surprised at what I brought to the table. I brought the perspective from a manager or dealer principal, and I think you could see the light bulbs go on that they should be doing things differently and to market themselves differently to work more closely with dealers. Shortly after joining the advisory board, Shilling and his company began participating in Career Fairs, Safety Days and Demo Days, and their involvement has grown since. General Equipment donates at least one machine per year to NDSCS for instruction, and offers books, computer network access to factory resources and tools, if required. The company sponsors trips for instructors to attend industry trade shows and training events, as well as sponsors scholarships for students. “In the last dozen years we have seen a better partnership develop between the AED dealers and the school,” said Shilling. “We have done a better job of promoting the school and this industry to the potential students and, most important, in the last couple of years we have hit our targets and the school counselors and vocational education teachers are recommending this diesel program to students like we have never seen before.”Since working with the local tech schools, General has had 60 to 70 young technicians come through their doors. Shilling says this type of relationship is important because he says it’s no longer acceptable to rob technicians from other dealers or industries.
“We have to grow our own,” he said. “Finding these young people early is the key to having a full crew and filling our customers’ expectations.” Build Your Pipeline
RDO Equipment, a John Deere, Hitachi and Sakai dealer based in Fargo, N.D., works with six technical schools through the company’s sponsorship program, Access Your Future. Started roughly five years ago, the Access Your Future program provides students with educational reimbursement benefits, and is based on the student’s admission to an accredited technical college. Similar to Titan’s program, the student also has to qualify for the program through an application and interview process. After the student qualifies for the program, (s)he then becomes a part of the RDO Equipment Co. service team, working part-time during the school year with potential for full-time work in the summer. In addition, RDO reimburses educational expenses, up to $8,000, depending on the program. Upon graduation, the student is eligible for full-time employment.“We’ve read the writing on the wall,” said Christi Offutt, RDO Equipment’s chief executive officer. “Service technicians are scarce and we need to be able to grow our own. We’re creating a pipeline from which to pull qualified individuals.”
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