With the heavy equipment industry experiencing a costly technician shortage, it’s become more important than ever to find out just what brings people to the field, as well as what keeps them there.
CED Magazine spoke with several heavy equipment technicians – all at various stages in their careers – from AED member companies like Emery Equipment, Newman Tractor, CLM Equipment and Whayne Supply Company. CED was eager to learn how they got their start, where their career paths took them, what they love about their jobs, what types of training and education they needed to be successful, and any advice they might have for others considering a career as a heavy equipment technician.
Jacob Taylor, Emery Equipment
As far as technicians go, Jacob Taylor is about as green as they come. Fresh out of school, he’s only worked in the industry for about three months – though he’s been interested in heavy equipment and machinery for as long as he can remember.
Looking for an opportunity to do what he loves, Taylor approached technician recruiting company Find a Wrench, which placed him with Emery Equipment Sales and Rentals, a Bobcat dealer located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. So far, it’s been a great fit.
“I have always enjoyed taking stuff apart to see how it works – and, for now, learning how everything works is my favorite thing about working as a heavy equipment technician,” Taylor said. “Emery Equipment gave me the opportunity to show them what I knew, and I like that the company has a family feel to it. It’s not a large company employee-wise, so we all pull together to get things done.”
Taylor recommends mechanical, electrical and hydraulic training for those interested in becoming technicians. Having just entered the field, his current career goals are to work hard and keep his nose to the grindstone.
“My goals are to learn all I can about the equipment we work on so I can become a more well-rounded technician and increase my value to the company.”
For more information on Emery Equipment, visit emeryequipment.com
Jimmy Speier, Newman Tractor
Though he’s just two years into a heavy equipment career, Jimmy Speier has always been fascinated by how equipment operates. However, becoming a heavy equipment technician wasn’t his first foray into the world of trade skills. After graduating high school, Speier completed a nine-month structural and pipe-welding program at the Hobart Institute of Welding Technology in Troy, Ohio. Now he works at construction equipment dealer Newman Tractor’s Cincinnati-area dealership where he’s able to use his welding and mechanical skills, as well as receive manufacturer training from Bell Trucks America.
“I got my start as a welder, and I’ve been doing welding and working as a mechanical technician,” Speier said. “Now that I’ve been around the equipment, I have a better understanding of how most things work and operate. I’m happy with the decision I made to start this career.”
Speier plans to keep moving forward on his career path by learning new things daily, living every day to the fullest and having a positive attitude. He has this advice for those pursuing a career as a heavy equipment technician: “Always take advice from the older technicians. They’ve been doing this for a long time and have some nice little tricks of the trade up their sleeves. Also, always be aware of your surroundings; this equipment has no mercy.”
Nate Pietrosky, Newman Tractor
Nate Pietrosky has worked in the heavy equipment industry for 18 years. Diesel mechanics is in his blood. Pietrosky’s dad was a lifelong technician who taught diesel mechanics for nearly 30 years at the same vocational school his son attended.
After learning the basics from his dad, both at home and in the classroom, Pietrosky attended technical college on a diesel mechanics scholarship. His first technician job was working on off-road equipment at a rental company. From there, Pietrosky’s career path took him to a tractor dealership where he serviced agricultural equipment. He eventually found his perfect fit at Newman Tractor, where he’s worked for the past 14 years – first in the shop and now as a field service mechanic working on earthmoving equipment.
“I saw the field service mechanics out on the road working and always thought that would be a really fun job because I like working outside. So I moved from the shop into a field service truck,” Pietrosky said.
As far as career goals go, Pietrosky is right where he wants to be, though he says he’ll never stop learning new things and striving to be the best.
Pietrosky recommends that prospective technicians attend a reputable vocational school or technical college, prepare to start at the bottom and work hard, take advantage of any in-house training provided at the dealership, and soak up as much knowledge as they can from experienced technicians. “The heavy equipment industry is growing and we need good, hardworking, quality mechanics in the field,” he said. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s a very satisfying job and the pay is excellent.”
To learn more about Newman Tractor, visit www.newmantractor.com
Jason Thibodeaux, CLM Equipment
Jason Thibodeaux has always been mechanically inclined. After high school, he attended the Universal Technical Institute in Houston and got his first mechanics job as a helper in the automotive industry. But it wasn’t meant to be, and Thibodeaux found himself leaving the automotive world, first for heavy trucks and, finally, for heavy equipment. He’s spent the past 11 years working at CLM Equipment’s Broussard, Louisiana, location; the company provides heavy equipment sales, rentals, parts and service for commercial, municipal and industrial customers.
“The satisfaction of getting a customer up and running again is what I like best about being a technician – and the people I work with at CLM,” Thibodeaux said. “The challenge of learning something new is what originally drew me to this type of work.”
Thibodeaux is currently working toward obtaining a number of manufacturer certifications. His advice to would-be technicians is to stick with it, always be willing to learn, and take multiple manufacturers’ training classes.
Chris Stetz, CLM Equipment
Technician Chris Stetz has 35 years of experience in the heavy equipment industry. After graduating from a two-year diesel mechanics program at SOWELA Technical Community College in 1984, he was hired to work at CLM’s Lake Charles area location and has been there ever since.
“The thing I like best about CLM is that it’s a privately owned dealership and the owner, Floyd Degueyter, is great to work for,” Stetz said. “I’ve watched his kids grow up and have now started to work under them as new owners.”
Stetz started as a clean-up and wash hand at CLM, then moved into the shop to do services and minor repairs. He also worked as a road technician before becoming a truck driver who hauled equipment. Stetz even tried his hand at being a service manager, but found that it just wasn’t for him. So he returned to what he loves: being on the road.
“At this point in my career, my goals are not moving up into management, but staying on the road for as long as I can and, if my health holds up, working in a shop in the future until retirement,” Stetz said. “Troubleshooting is what I like best about working as a technician. Unlike patients, who can tell a doctor what’s wrong, a machine cannot, and we have to get it right.”
Stetz recommends that people serious about having a career as a technician learn basic technical work like hydraulics, electrical, and engines, and keep computer skills up to date to keep up with advances in equipment.
for more information on CLM Equipment.
John Daddona, Whayne Supply Company
John Daddona is a testament to the importance of career and technical education. Just a few years ago, he was a high school student with an interest in becoming a technician – and a heavy equipment sciences instructor committed to helping him make it happen. Now Daddona’s a Caterpillar ThinkBIG graduate and a Whayne Supply Company technician with nearly five years of experience under his belt.
“I didn’t want a job that was going to be the same old thing every day, and I wanted to be valuable to a company and have a job that wasn’t easily replaceable,” Daddona said. “I have to give Dave Myers, the heavy equipment instructor at Fairdale High School, a lot of credit for where I am now. He introduced me to the ThinkBIG program through Whayne Supply.”
For the last two years of high school, Daddona alternated between eight weeks at school and eight weeks of hands-on training. When he’d finished the ThinkBIG program and high school, he had an associate’s degree and a full-time job at Whayne Supply. He hopes to one day become a field service technician for the company, but in the meantime is working hard and learning as much as he can.
Daddona is grateful that his high school emphasized trade career paths and said that, in general, schools don’t do enough to introduce kids to trade careers.
“If I didn’t learn a trade, there’s no telling where I’d be right now,” he said. “A lot of schools tell you that if you don’t go to a four-year college, you’re not going to be anything, and that’s just not true – sometimes people in trade careers are even more successful than people with four-year degrees.”
Chad Martin, Whayne Supply Company
Chad Martin’s been working in the heavy equipment industry since 2011, but as the grandson of the president of Miller Bros. Coal Inc., he’s grown up around heavy equipment his entire life. As a child, he helped out at his grandfather’s shops doing whatever was asked of him so that he could spend more time around the machines that fascinated him.
Martin attended Alice Lloyd College, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and accounting, and while in school he completed the Caterpillar ThinkBIG program to further his education and gain hands-on experience.
“My grandpa was a longtime business partner with Whayne Supply, and that’s how I found out about the ThinkBIG program,” Martin said. “I knew I wanted to go as soon as I heard about it.”
After graduating from the ThinkBIG program in 2013, Martin relocated to Whayne Supply’s Lexington, Kentucky, branch, where his education and mechanical experience allowed him to show his skills and rise quickly through the ranks of the dealership. Last year he accepted a position as earthmoving shop supervisor at the Lexington branch and hopes to advance further in management at Whayne Supply.
“This company has me on the path to achieve my goals,” Martin said. “Whayne Supply is a great company that offers endless possibilities.”
To beginning technicians, Martin recommends starting their career through the ThinkBIG program and offered this bit of wisdom: “Safety comes first, because it can be a dangerous job.”
Harold Huckeby, Whayne Supply Company
Veteran technician Harold Huckeby has spent 29 years working on cars, trucks and heavy equipment. While attending college at the University of Louisville, he realized he’d rather join the workforce full time, trying his hand at factory work and van conversion before finding his first love: car audio electronics installation. Huckeby worked as a mechanic at a local truck line where he had great teachers, and he decided to pursue a career as a truck mechanic. However, he quickly discovered that what he really wanted to be was a diesel engine mechanic.
After learning the basics at the truck line, Huckeby worked for a Cummins engine distributor, where he gained engine experience, was on the cutting edge of electronic fuel system management, was exposed to chassis and dyno operation, and fell in love with diagnostics and troubleshooting. Huckeby worked there for nearly 10 years before joining Whayne Supply, where he’s been a Caterpillar power systems field mechanic for the past 17 years.
“I earned the opportunity to become a field man after one year in the truck shop,” he said. “I worked on equipment in demanding situations and discovered that the more demanding and risky a situation is, the more I like it. The adventure of turning an awful situation into a positive experience for the customer is what draws me to the job.”
Huckeby’s advice for those just starting in the heavy equipment industry is to take advantage of on-the-job training, find good teachers and co-workers, and enter the field with short- and long-term financial goals. Also: “Don’t bounce from employer to employer every time you encounter a problem or a promise. Enjoy the experiences and be kind to yourself.”
For more information on Whayne Supply Company, visit whayne.com
Daniel Stansbury, Whayne Supply Company
Daniel Stansbury has worked in the heavy equipment industry for 13 years. As a child growing up on a farm, he had a passion for fixing things and particularly enjoyed working on farm equipment. While in high school, Stansbury began considering career options and decided that he wanted to be a technician, specifically a heavy equipment field technician, which would allow him to combine his love of working outdoors with some of the highest pay in the industry.
Stansbury completed his junior and senior years at Prosser Career Education Center, where he studied diesel mechanics. During his senior year, a recruiter from Whayne Supply introduced him to the ThinkBIG program. Stansbury immediately applied for a part-time job at Whayne Supply and was accepted into program. Once completed, he had a valuable set of skills, an associate’s degree in applied science and a full-time job at Whayne Supply.
Stansbury went to work for Whayne Supply at a time when the company was expanding into agricultural equipment. There was an agricultural field truck position open and he was just the technician for the job.
“My service manager at the time knew I had a strong background in – and a passion for – working on agricultural equipment,” Stansbury said. “I was hired into the AG field service position right out of the ThinkBIG program and have been in that position for 11 years. The thing I like best about being a technician is the feeling of accomplishment after getting a down machine back up and running. Also, Whayne Supply has supplied a good working environment where I can grow as a technician and become better at my job through training they provide. They’ve supplied a workplace that allows me to financially provide for my family.”
For people thinking about a career as a heavy equipment technician, Stansbury recommends taking advantage of industry-based training in high school or technical college, or even just showing up at a dealership with a good attitude and a willingness to learn.
“I think today’s youth are taught that they have to go to a four-year college to be successful,” he said. “I strongly believe there are many industries that do not require a traditional college degree to make a good living. I can say without a doubt that a career in the heavy equipment industry can offer a very rewarding career path.”