One of the greatest challenges facing equipment dealers is the lack of qualified off-road diesel technicians to meet industry demand. In 2015, The AED Foundation commissioned the College of William and Mary to examine and reserach the technician shortage and its economic impact on equipment distributors. Their study found that equipment dealers face at least $2.4 billion in annual forgone revenue due to a lack of qualified diesel technicians. Over the last 18 months the construction equipment industry, buttressed by a strong economy and increased consumer confidence, has boomed.
This increased demand has only exacerbated the technician shortage and increased the amount of money equipment dealers leave on the table each year. So it comes as no surprise that the No. 1 issue mentioned when I visit AED dealer members in the Northeast is the lack of technicians – specifically, what can they do to recruit more, and what are AED and The AED Foundation doing to address this problem? Here, we’ll examine what AED is doing to tackle the technician shortage – with focus on a case study of SUNY Cobleskill’s High School Day – and discuss ways that you can join the fight to solve this issue while simultaneously recruiting more technicians for your dealership.
AED lobbies the federal government for policies that address the causes of the technician shortage, but our efforts are hampered by the fact that U.S. education funding is primarily a state issue.
Additionally, over the past few decades, society has emphasized four-year degree programs to high school students and stigmatized vocational schools, associate degrees, and technical certification programs. The steps to combat the technician shortage are clear: standardized curriculum is needed to ensure graduates have the skill sets to meet industry needs, university diesel programs need financial and material support, and high schools must promote technical career paths. Government has failed to meaningfully pursue these solutions, and The AED Foundation has stepped in to pick up as much slack as possible.
The AED Foundation accredits diesel technology programs to ensure that curricula meet industry standards. These standards, which are updated every three years, are established by an industry task force of technical experts from AED member dealers and manufacturers and technical colleges accredited by The AED Foundation. In 2001, the Foundation accredited its first technical college, and today there are 49 accredited programs at 38 universities across the United States. As part of the school accreditation process, AED regional managers help foster a partnership between local dealers and the college. These dealers, through scholarship programs and donation of used equipment, provide material and financial support to the college’s diesel program. Once accredited, The AED Foundation continues working with the school and dealers to promote the diesel program to local high school students. In this way, The AED Foundation addresses at the local level the underlying causes of the technician shortage. To better understand this process, let’s look at SUNY Cobleskill.
SUNY Cobleskill’s diesel technology program first received AED Foundation accreditation in 2004. The AED Foundation, John Deere, and several equipment dealers from the Northeast partnered with Cobleskill to provide the material and institutional support necessary to meet accreditation standards. This partnership remains strong to this day as John Deere has an OEM-specific diesel technician program at the school, and dealers such as Nortrax, Five Star Equipment, Milton CAT, Monroe Tractor, and Capital Tractor all serve as members of Cobleskill’s Dealer Advisory Board. This strong industry support helped SUNY Cobleskill become a top-tier diesel technology program in the Northeast.
I joined AED in 2017, and as I visited dealer members in New York, a pattern quickly emerged: dealers not engaged with Cobleskill found it very difficult to hire technicians from Cobleskill. I asked Cobleskill why this was. Their response was that most dealers that engage with the school recruit students into Cobleskill’s program. By the time those students finish their first year of school, they already have jobs lined up after they graduate, with the dealerships that recruited them. Cobleskill suggested that dealers interested in getting more engaged in the recruitment process participate in SUNY Cobleskill’s Annual High School Day.
On September 28, SUNY Cobleskill held its 13th Annual Agriculture and Natural Resources High School Day. About 1,000 high school students from local vocational and technology schools attended to learn about the various career paths available to students enrolled in Cobleskill’s School of Agriculture and Natural Resources, which includes their diesel technology program. Students compete for prizes in industry-relevant contests, such as the hydraulics and equipment operation contest and the small engine contest. In between events, they get to mingle with potential future employers to learn more about the career options available in each field. I invited AED dealer members who wished to get more engaged with Cobleskill to participate in this event, and the results were outstanding.
About 12 dealers sent representatives to interact with students. These dealers brought a piece of equipment and/or set up a booth with informational materials on internship programs, scholarship opportunities, etc. Student engagement with dealers was high, and dealers all agreed that participating in High School Day was a great investment. To build on this success, I’ll connect dealers that participated with high schools in their area, so they can build the relationships necessary to recruit students from those schools.
High School Day will be back next year, but what are your options if you’re not from upstate New York?
Your dealership can help address the technician shortage by working with your AED regional manager to identify tech colleges in your area that are good prospects for AED Foundation accreditation. It costs The AED Foundation approximately $90,000 to accredit a school, so the number of schools that can be accredited is tied directly to the strength of The AED Foundation’s annual fundraising campaign. The Foundation is a 501(c)(3) charity funded by donations from AED members. These donations are 100 percent tax deductible, and over the past few years the fundraising campaign has raised around $400,000 annually. These contributions are put to good use – The AED Foundation accredited five programs in 2018! Your AED regional manager can provide more information regarding contributions to The AED Foundation.
Having an AED Foundation-Accredited school in your area does not mean that graduates from that program will work at your dealership – some regions have hundreds of technician openings. Forty graduates per year is not always enough supply to meet the demand in your local marketplace. Recruiting local students into and AED Foundation-Accredited program in your area is an important step towards meeting demand. Establish relationships with local high schools and vocational schools by offering internship programs, inviting the senior class to take a field trip to your shop to learn and watch how you service equipment, or sending a service manager to talk to classes. These activities allow you to identify and build relationships with local high school students, whom you then recruit into an AED Foundation-Accredited program. Maintain your relationship with these students while they are in school. When they graduate, they are highly likely to move back home and take a job working in your shop. True, none of this will provide you with a service technician today; but wait a few years and you will have a constant pipeline of highly qualified technicians eager to work for your dealership.