Training to become a successful heavy equipment technician requires a great interest and aptitude for technical subjects and a get-it-done work ethic. To fill the demand for skilled technicians that the industry is and has been in dire need of, The AED Foundation has been working with various high school programs throughout the United States and Canada. AED Foundation-recognized high schools start training youth as early as 15.
High academic performance in high school classes like physical sciences, advanced mathematics and computers, as well as core subjects such as English, reading and writing, is essential for joining these programs. But students must also be motivated to excel outside of the classroom.
For example, John Dietz, a senior from Sparta High School, in Sparta, Michigan, stated,
“I want to be a heavy equipment technician because of how far I see it taking me in life. The heavy equipment industry is growing every day, which means that it’s offering more and more opportunities. I first wanted to be an auto technician, but I didn’t see myself being as successful as if I was a heavy equipment technician.”
Dietz said he was attracted to the program at Kent Career Tech Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan, because of “the opportunities it would give me. My family and I both took a look at the diesel technical program and agreed that it would open more doors in my future. Not only has the program done just that, but it has also given me a lot of experience on what working in an actual shop feels like.”
To get an idea of how to get more goal-oriented students like Dietz into high school programs like this,
we asked how his peers react when he tells them he is training to be a skilled diesel technician. Dietz answered:
“Some of my friends are in the diesel technician class, so they understand what it’s like, but as for the people who don’t know, I feel like they misunderstand it. A lot of people may think that diesels are only good for blowing out black smoke, but this is a very big misconception. In fact, with the after-treatment systems, these engines don’t produce much, if any, black smoke. These engines are very sophisticated, and it takes a very trained and skilled technician to work on them. This industry is a lot more than turning bolts for a living. It is a growing, technologically advanced, industrialized career that is everywhere in our lives even if we don’t see it. The diesel technician is a knowledgeable, driven person, and I am proud to be working toward becoming one.”
Austin Wentzel, a senior at Fleetwood Area High School, had a similarly illuminating response. Wentzel said, “I know I will always be in a well-paid field and I get to do a job I love.” In choosing a career path as a diesel technician, Wentzel is following in his father’s footsteps, but he is also pursuing a personal dream: “My father is a diesel mechanic and is part owner of a diesel fleet service company, and I hope to either start my own business or take over his.” Wentzel added that it has always been his dream to own his own high-performance diesel shop.
Wentzel is enrolled at the Berks Career and Technology Center in Oley, Pennsylvania. He studies under instructor James Mack, who stated, “We teach from the ground up, not expecting our students to have any prior experience, but our program is also competency-based, so that if a student does have prior experience and talent they can progress through at a faster pace and move on to more advanced topics.” Mack has been an instructor at Berks for almost 15 years.
As he explained, dispelling myths about the profession and the industry is a consistent part of his job:
“In career and technical education (CTE), we often encounter a perception that students must choose between college and technical training. With every tour of students that walks through my program I try to dispel this myth. I try to share that in our current times there is no reason a student cannot do both. Some of my students go right into the workforce after graduation, and others go on to postsecondary training. CTE is a great way to delve into a career field and perhaps find out if it is a good fit before the student is risking their own finances and building up debt.”
James Cain, John Dietz’ diesel and equipment instructor at Kent, also spoke about some of the curriculum in his program. “The program is two years long, broken down into four nine-week quarters each year that cover 13 segments aligned with the Michigan CTE standards. During those nine-week quarters, we teach preventative maintenance, operator training, welding, hydraulics, electrical, equipment repair, and complete diesel engine rebuilding.”
Cain, who has over 20 years of experience with construction and farm equipment, said that although Kent has been around since the 1970s, the diesel and equipment program was just recognized by AED this year. “We are honored to be the first high school-level program in Michigan to be recognized by The AED Foundation,” said Cain.
It is not always an easy task introducing such complex ideas and concepts to a younger crowd. Cain spoke to these challenges by saying, “With a wide range of skills and abilities, it can be difficult to differentiate instruction to meet each student’s needs. But on the flip side, the advantages of working with high school students is their willingness to learn and gain new skills before developing bad habits.”
“The future looks bright for young people wanting to build a career in the diesel/equipment technician field,” Cain said.
“Many of the graduates from our program that have chosen the technician field are doing very well. Some have been fortunate enough to earn scholarships to pay for college or technical training after high school. We have former students in the AIS Summer Trainee Entrance Program and the Cummins CAPS program.”
AED members can support by providing training opportunities and job shadowing for students. Many have already begun offering programs to help students get to the next level after high school. The more interaction the industry can have with these start-up programs, the better. As we heard from some of the students, the outdated stigmas surrounding the profession still linger. By working with local youth programs, dealerships, service departments, and technicians, we can squelch these inaccurate stereotypes early on.
On the logistical side of things, James Mack identified another challenge that his program and others like it face, and one that dealerships are in a prime position to help with: “The other constant challenge is for our program to stay up to date on equipment and training resources. Some of our local employers and OAC members have been a great help by donating components. Everything from worn-out engines to warranty parts, hydraulic pumps, hydraulic cylinders, emissions components, etc.,” said Mack. “Other employers have helped tremendously with providing access to service information or donating copies of service training literature and videos. All this helps me improve what I am able to pass on to our students and helps me keep our training aligned to the needs of modern equipment.”