People in the heavy equipment industry have long known truths that those in education and the general public have yet to grasp. For example, contrary to popular belief, a four-year college degree isn’t strictly necessary in order to have a successful career, and promoting a four-year college education to all students may not be in their best interest when many would be better served training for a technical career. After all, not everyone does well in a traditional education environment. Technical careers in the heavy equipment industry give enterprising young people who enjoy working with their hands an opportunity to thrive, as well as a sense of accomplishment they might not have experienced in school.
Twenty-one-year-old technician Austin Shealy is a perfect example. Just a few years ago, he was a teenager who was struggling through high school and wanting to drop out. His mom had a better idea: Get a job and finish school online, or move out of the house. It was just the push Shealy needed.
“I was attending a private school and wanted to drop out,” he said. “I truly hated school and if I had dropped out, who knows where I would be today. I am really glad my mom pushed me the way she did. I know I was tough to raise, but somehow, she knew I was smart and was not going to be a failure, even though it was very obvious that I was not going to college. I know God gives everyone a talent, sometimes you just have to dig deep to find it. I was always mechanically inclined and would help around our farm fixing things and fixing cars. I was never one to sit around, so I knew an office job was not my thing.”
Shealy completed his junior and senior years of high school online, graduating in 2015. While finishing school, he got a job at Bell Automotive and Diesel Service, a small local shop owned and operated by an experienced diesel and automotive technician. Shealy worked there for a year, repairing all types of cars, diesel trucks and equipment – and, most importantly, learning the basics. He went on to accept a shop mechanic position with Worldwide Equipment, a larger commercial shop where he worked on over-the-road trucks.
“I will always be grateful to Tommy Bell for giving me my first job; it was my start there that enabled me to get where I am today,” said Shealy. “I enjoyed the jobs I had at Bell Automotive and Worldwide Equipment, working alongside some great technicians. These first jobs also instilled a good work ethic in me; I was always on time – or early – for work and still am today. I realized pretty quickly that, if I was going to be successful, I had to do my best and work hard.”
While at Worldwide Machinery, several of Shealy’s co-workers and mentors suggested he enter the Caterpillar ThinkBIG program at Blanchard Machinery – an AED-Foundation accredited work-study training program, consisting of five eight-week paid internships at the dealership and five eight-week semesters of schooling at Florence-Darlington Technical College. The program was intense, but Shealy excelled.
“When I realized I liked the work and was good at it, I had the confidence to do my best every day,” he said. “Even though it was like school in a lot of ways, because I liked it, I did not mind studying and I loved it when I made good grades.”
Shealy graduated the ThinkBIG program with honors, becoming a full-time diesel heavy equipment technician at Blanchard Machinery in May of 2017. He was also recently certified through The AED Foundation’s Certified Technician Program. Shealy loves the variety that comes with the job, as well as the security of being well trained and certified for a position that’s in high demand.
“Most of my friends are not even out of college yet and have no idea what they want to do,” Shealy said. “At just 21, I have a good head start, some great training, and I love what I do every day, so I know I’ll be just fine.”
For those who may be considering a career as a technician in the heavy equipment industry, Shealy has this advice: “Finish high school strong, because you really do need some of the skills. Expect to work hard, and work alongside as many good mechanics as you can – learn as much as you can from them. Also, get as much hands-on training as you can and as many certifications as you can get your hands on. It will be to your benefit.”
To learn more about The AED Foundation’s Certified Technician Program, call 630-574-0650, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit aedfoundation.org/certified-technician-program. The AED Foundation is also on Facebook and Twitter.