Proactive in Schooling and Recruiting Professionals
General Equipment sees a need for skilled talent and refuses to wait for a solution

Being proactive and making use of all available tools are two crucial steps in General Equipment & Supplies Inc.’s success. That, admittedly, is an oversimplification, but it’s still true.

The Fargo, North Dakota-based supplier of heavy equipment, takes pride in its customer service as they sell and lease – as well as help maintain and repair – Komatsu and additional product lines. 

“We have long believed that workforce development is the most critical issue facing the dealer network today,” says Don Shilling, chairman of General Equipment. “The government is not going to solve our problems. We must be proactive in creating our solutions, and The AED Foundation is a great first step in that direction.”

General Equipment has always been a supporter of The AED Foundation. Four former General Diesel and Equipment employees banded together in 1984 to form the current company. “(We) inherited the AED membership from the previous company,” Shilling says. In the early years, “we took advantage of (the Foundation’s) management training.” Many managers took multiple study modules, he adds. 

Shilling served on The AED Foundation board (including as chairman in 2006-07), and he was active in the Technical Training Committee. “While on The AED Foundation and then the AED board, we talked about developing an assessment test for the tech school graduates to make sure the schools were teaching to our standards and doing their job correctly. We talked about spending a significant amount on developing through a consulting firm, and then determined we could get volunteers together from many of the participating dealerships around the country and develop our own assessment test.” Different areas of study – engines, hydraulics, etc. – were developed to measure proficiency.

“We strongly believe in those and use them religiously,” Shilling adds. Also, General Equipment contributes to The AED Foundation and “over-buys,” as Shilling puts it, at the annual live auction. “We (also) have many of our employees and owners who have contributed time and efforts for the Foundation. Also, we are one of the heaviest users of (Foundation) products.”

His time on the board may be over, but his dedication to The AED Foundation and industry has not waned. “My goal was to bring together  dealers who promote industry education, provide leadership and interaction with our elected officials promoting industry improvements, and engage in workforce development at every level to assure our survival in the industry.”

General Equipment also helped host the first Technical Education Instructors Conference, held at North Dakota State College of Science (NDSCS) in 2014. Colleges continue to take part, providing educational materials, best practices and speakers to further promote diesel and technical programs.

Shilling’s continuous effort to help further the industry is no mere blip on the radar. “Don saw the demand for workforce development 20 years ago,” says Ann Pollert, Director of Workforce Development for General Equipment. “He’d been talking to Komatsu for years, knowing he wanted to get a program started at NDSCS.”

Shilling might be considered more unusual, too, in that he hired Pollert. She does a lot of recruiting work for General Equipment, spending weeks on the go, visiting school after school to find kids interested in a career in diesel technology. Sometimes there is resistance, but the right candidate can learn and earn at the same time, and along with that two-year degree, they’ll often have a job right out of the gate, as well as a set of lifelong skills.

Pollert admits some parents are reluctant to let their kids be steered toward heavy equipment. “A cultural change needs to take place. I say all the time to the parents: the kids aren’t likely to be diesel technicians their whole lives.” Sales and management opportunities, for example – along with regularly refreshing skills and learning new technology – keep the career from growing stagnant.

That Shilling hired a recruiter to help find technically inclined candidates shows vision. “General Equipment’s goal of recruiting 8 to 10 Komatsu students per year also comes with a huge commitment in how we do business”, states Jon Shilling President. “Newly hired technicians need guidance thus as a company we choose to increase the number of supervisors in service to give proper guidance to this young talent”.

The current challenge is to find seasoned technicians and helping to draw recruits to the field and train them will help remedy that problem somewhat. “It’s hard to find those,” Pollert admits. But General Equipment’s proactive stance – if you find them and train them, they will come – can only help. 

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