While he was still with Robbins, Heavy Machines became their dealer, and Nelson was hired on to help integrate the product line.
Heavy Machines itself has been in business since 1971, servicing the construction, forestry, mining and demolition industries, as well as scrap material handling and much more. Through their eight locations, most of which are centered in the South and Mid-Atlantic, they serve clients in 14 states, including the Northeast.
“We’ve been involved with AED and The AED Foundation for a long time,” Nelson says. “We attend the annual meeting and take advantage of a lot of The AED Foundation educational resources available, much like their live and on-demand webinars.
“The educational resources are great,” he adds. Networking is invaluable, and it dovetails nicely with education. “The truth is, they kind of go hand in hand because when you participate in educational seminars and conferences, you meet people and share resources.
“We enjoy the services and educational opportunities that The AED Foundation provides. It’s not something we’re obliged to do, but we actually enjoy it. It’s hard to pick what’s most valuable.”
Nelson says his company is invested in local AED activity as well, thanks to a “pretty strong local AED chapter in Memphis.”
Networking and advocacy are important to Heavy Machines, but training may be most crucial. Besides working with The AED Foundation, Heavy Machines has partnered with the Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) to develop programs to school service technicians.
“It’s a challenge to hire,” he admits. “Turnover for technicians is not that high; it’s pretty low, in fact. When you find a really good technician, whether you need them or not, they tend to get hired anyway.”
There’s no real pipeline at the moment, Nelson adds, with no large pool of trained candidates ready to come work in the industry.
“Training in-house takes time, where you start from zero. But with The AED Foundation programs, you don’t start at zero.”
Nelson adds that, while vocational-tech schooling is steadily attracting renewed attention – the study that The AED Foundation produced dives into the skills gap – it hasn’t quite caught on as much as leaders in the industry would like.
They’re working on that, however.
Tennessee lawmakers, the governor in particular, seem to understand the need right along with The AED Foundation. With tuition help through the TCAT Reconnect Grant, an ambitious student can graduate in two years, debt-free, and land a good job in the automotive or heavy machinery industries.
Not everyone should feel obligated to pursue a four-year degree when their skills – and the job market – can prove lucrative with an associate’s degree. “With a two-year degree, if you apply yourself, it’s six-figure pay,” Nelson says. Because it’s a niche industry and because it’s an industry responsible for the roads we drive on – among countless other things – it’s one with a future.
The TCAT people are helping Heavy Machines with an accredited program. “We go to high schools and guidance counselors, and plan to sell it and recruit people to the program.”
Nelson says that more politicians seem to understand, and they seem to get it. He adds that, in the meantime, “We’ll keep pushing for change.”