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Passion. Persistence. Payoff.

Mike Hayes is passionate about having AED-accredited colleges in every state partnering with equipment manufacturers to create a new way of training incoming technicians into the industry.

A director on The AED Foundation board, Hayes put that passion to work at Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology (OSUIT) two decades ago when he started a pilot program between the school and his employer, Komatsu America Corp.

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As the partnership celebrates its 20th anniversary, Hayes was honored to be invited to deliver the commencement address this summer in front of more than 300 OSUIT graduates from the Schools of Arts & Sciences, Construction Technologies, Culinary Arts, Engineering Technologies, Information Technologies, Visual Communications and Nursing & Health Sciences.

“It is a big deal giving the commencement speech,” he said. “It was their celebration that I was invited to, and to me that was the honor. When you look at the students graduating knowing they had the latest and greatest technology being taught to them, the most technologically advanced generation. Graduating from one of the most innovative universities, that’s where the honor really hits home for me.”

The director of distributor development for Komatsu America encouraged the graduates to push themselves past their potential; to be creative and innovative; to not let fear hold them back; and, above all else, to be passionate and persistent.

Hayes, who has worked in the equipment distribution industry for more than 30 years, was himself all of the above when he first learned that Komatsu America – and the industry in general – had no formal training program in place for up-and-coming technicians.

“We had what was called on-the-job training or job shadowing,” Hayes said. “That was where a younger apprentice would be paired with an older, experienced technician. It was basically up to the older technician to decide what the younger technician did while working for him – and not really working with him, if that makes sense.”

Apprentices oftentimes found themselves doing the grunt work of cleaning up and unloading parts rather than receiving actual hands-on training, as instructed by their mentor. “It was more running around, which is not really learning anything, so we wanted to go from an unstructured to a structured approach,” Hayes explained. “That was the first goal.”


“My passion is to change the industry  by offering programs like this in every state to every individual who has an interest in joining this market.”

            –– Mike Hayes


The second goal was to advance the general education of incoming technicians, many of whom had dropped out of high school and only had GED diplomas.  

We wanted to build on their current education by offering more general education classes and putting an associates degree on it, knowing that someday, when those technicians stayed in the industry they would become managers in their respective departments,” Hayes explained. “We wanted to make sure they had education they could build upon.”

Komatsu insisted on partnering with a school that offered both analytical classroom time and hands-on learning directly with distributors each semester, plus they wanted credit hours to be transferable, in case graduates wanted to further their degree and education.

Hayes found a perfect partner in OSUIT. “Oklahoma was innovative enough to look at our request and understand that it benefited the student as well as the industry by having half the semester performed in the classroom and the other half performed in the dealership doing actual work,” Hayes said.

The OSUIT partnership also allowed incoming technicians to be fully work-ready in a shorter amount of time. “Our workforce needs are growing faster than our workforce, so the other problem we were challenged with was growing the knowledge of the technical workforce in a shorter period of time,” Hayes said. “By putting the student in a controlled classroom environment, exposed to the latest and greatest technology and instruction, with the freedom to make mistakes and to work on the process  themselves, the formal training gap closed to two-and-a-half years, instead of five years of job shadow.”

With the OSUIT program a solid success story, Komatsu now offers a similar partnership at North Dakota State College of Science , and Hayes would like to see the program replicated across the nation with other manufacturers and schools through his efforts with the AED Foundation.

“My passion is to change the industry  by offering programs like this in every state to every individual who has an interest in joining this market and enjoying a fulfilling career.”

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