Earl K. Harbaugh, who founded Ditch Witch Midwest in 1970, also had a hand in creating The AED Foundation in 1991.
Today Earl is semi-retired from the business, which offers sales of new and used equipment, as well as rentals and service. While he still serves as CEO of Ditch Witch Midwest, his son Mark is the president.
Ditch Witch Midwest has steadily expanded over its nearly 50-year lifespan. Two Wisconsin locations were brought into the fold during the mid-1990s, and two Indiana sites were added in 2002. Today they have approximately 68 employees, but they’re doubling the size of their Carol Stream facility, which currently occupies a 20,000-square-foot building on two acres. By October they plan to move into their new 40,000-square-foot structure set on six acres.
“One big thing we’re excited about is the training center we’re putting in as part of our new footprint,” Mark Harbaugh says. “We want to bring in customers and offer training in operations and equipment safety.” Part of that expansion includes a half-acre demo area. “It’ll be a green space to train in a safe, controlled environment.” Some of that training will be in the form of refresher courses, but other options include working with new employees to the industry.
The industry has problems with finding skilled operators. As Harbaugh says, learning on the job is time and money, so if Ditch Witch can partner with technicians and operators, and help train or simply refresh their skills, it’s a great opportunity.
“We’re not necessarily starting a tech school,” Harbaugh adds. That’s best left to The AED Foundation and educational institutions, but Ditch Witch Midwest is very much pro recruiting and training skilled technicians. “In our industry there’s a huge vacuum of talent to fix our equipment.”
Tier 4 has changed things a lot, too, creating new needs. “You need to be current (with Tier 4 being) to avoid issues or damage, to teach what points and maintenance issues to watch out for, to protect equipment,” says Harbaugh.
“We partner with different trade schools to keep educating students as they begin their career path. The construction industry needs qualified technicians. Most students think of cars and trucks (when they enter a diesel program or technical school), and are not familiar with jobs available in the construction equipment industry.”
“Not every kid is meant for a four-year college pathway. The AED Foundation helps bring awareness to high school programs as well as trade schools, of the many, many, opportunities available within the construction equipment industry., Trades are not like they used to be. This is a lucrative career and the benefits are great. A kid coming right out of high school can make a decent income.” With technical training, internships and more, an 18-year-old doesn’t need to start their journey in life with hundreds and thousands of dollars in debt. In fact, Ditch Witch offers some paid internships “to give future employees an idea of what it is like to work in the construction equipment distribution industry.”
Ditch Witch Midwest uses tools provided by The AED Foundation to play active role in growing the next generation of technicians. Webinars and seminars hosted by The Foundation hold value. “We always watch what’s available and try to take advantage of the courses and opportunities The AED Foundation offers.” They’ve sent managers – and Harbaugh himself has gone, to educational events – to network and hear from companies of varying sizes and to get their insights.
Resources such as accreditation programs are very valuable, Harbaugh adds. “Not every business has the ability to give this type of training to improve their company’s day-to-day operation, and The AED Foundation provides numerous courses for every department within a dealership.”
And even though those in the industry are technically competing among one another, there is a common goal, a common need to build up the technician talent pool and to get the voice of heavy equipment heard. “We’re all swimming in the same waters,” Harbaugh says.