With technology in the heavy equipment industry evolving at a rapid clip, “We want forward-looking information,” says AED Foundation Board Member Ron Barlet.
Barlet is president of Bejac Corporation, a Placentia, California-based company that has been involved with The AED Foundation for decades, including supporting the annual AED Foundation Fundraising Gala.
Barlet serves both on the AED Executive board and as a representative on The AED Foundation board.
Bejac has been around since 1953, originally as an underground pipeline contracting business. In 1985, Barlet was hired to liquidate assets and sell off remaining equipment. Before all the gear was gone, a contractor inquired about renting an excavator.
“That’s how we got started. Heavy equipment rental was in its infancy in the late 1980s,” Barlet says, and it proved a smart move for Bejac. From there the specialty equipment dealer grew, sparked in part by its acquisition of other businesses as well as adding several equipment lines, some of which weren’t normally sold by construction equipment dealers but which dovetailed nicely with the needs of its customers. “From 1999 on, we looked more like a traditional AED dealer,” says Barlet.
Today, Bejac caters to the construction, demolition, forestry and recycling industries, through selling, servicing and leasing. It has seven full-service locations as well as three specialty centers, primarily in California, but it also has a presence in Arizona and Nevada.
Bejac joined AED in 1995, “Because it’s very industry-specific,” Barlet says. “For many years we just participated in seminars … and around 2011 or 2012, I was asked to join the board of directors.” From there he’s gone on to the executive board, currently serving as senior vice president before assuming the title of chair in 2020.
“I’m involved in high-level matters of running the Association,” he says of his work in helping to shape the Association’s vision and bring those goals to fruition.
Workforce development is important to Barlet. “There’s a tremendous workforce shortage in our industries. We’re doing everything in our power to get involved with high schools and colleges to help generate a workforce we can hire.”
His company also gets involved in shaping the future workforce, visiting colleges to review or help develop technology programs. “We try to determine shortcomings.” Currently Bejac is looking toward opening a training center at a nearby college, working with the school to draft workforce education and development programs, including internships. “We work with them depending on where they are, be it information seeking or developing programs.”
Field trips have been arranged, inviting college students to tour and explore the industry. They’re even trying to draw high schoolers with revivals of vocational programs. Just 15 to 20 years ago, Barlet says, schools had more vo-tech options, but budget cuts and a redirected focus on attaining college degrees has created a talent shortage. “We cut our knees off in (losing) those types of programs. That’s where we are today.”
“We need private partnerships, because engines are expensive and the software is changing. There’s no sense teaching 20-year-old technology when schematics and computer skills are needed.”
That’s where The AED Foundation helps. “Whether you’re on the board, a dealer or an employee of a dealer, the fact of the matter is The AED Foundation is the only place I know of where you can get industry-specific information to improve, enhance and educate your dealership.”
The Foundation provides a voice for unique challenges in the industry. Outdated and overburdened infrastructure affects heavy equipment in multiple ways. Roads and bridges need to be replaced or updated, yes, but inadequacies that lead to clogged roads affect progress as well. When it’s a challenge for workers to get to job sites, the problem mushrooms.
Outsourcing is becoming an issue, too. More companies are hiring outside contractors to do jobs – it may be happening faster in California, Barlet says – but that fuels the need to have a wider, deeper talent pool.
One place in particular that Barlet would like to see more improvement is on the training side. “We need to do a better job showing the technicians that come on board that there’s a future for them. Some of our technicians have moved into supervisory roles, management or even become salesmen – we need to show that it’s not just technicians for life. There’s good growth activity.”
Some complain about a shortage of employees but don’t take advantage of training. Barlet encourages participation, as well as networking. “The AED Foundation is a great resource to generate new ideas and professionally develop your workforce.”