At this year’s CONEXPO, the Caterpillar Foundation announced a $300,000 grant to The AED Foundation’s (AEDF) scholarship program for high school graduates transitioning to AED Foundation-accredited trade schools.
“We are proud to partner with The AED Foundation to help high schools build a diverse pipeline of candidates for career and technical college programs, and ultimately help address the manufacturing skills gap we are facing globally,” said Asha Varghese, Caterpillar Foundation president.
AED President and CEO Brian P. McGuire reciprocated the sentiment, adding, “With this partnership, we are taking a step forward to close the skills gap directly and educate the next generation of skilled technicians for our industry.”
According to AED Foundation Chairman Jeff Scott, a critical study by the College of William & Mary on workforce gaps recently indicated an urgent need for service technicians for construction and heavy equipment. Specifically, the study outlines the demand for at least 73,000 skilled technicians over the next five years to fill job openings in the construction equipment maintenance and repair industry in North America.
Citing a commitment from AED dealer members and AED Foundation investors to address the workforce shortage, Scott says, “AEDF’s Vision 2024 is committed to helping close this gap by a concentrated effort on programs to help educate high school CTE programs, accredit college technical programs and certify dealer technicians over the next five years.” Furthermore, he believes this partnership with the Caterpillar Foundation will assist in overcoming the workplace shortage of trained technicians.
Jason Blake, executive vice president and COO of The AED Foundation, indicates that the partnership didn’t happen by accident. “Two to three years ago, we established a baseline to solve the workforce issue. We took the first step to address the skills gap,” he says, referring to AED accreditation for technical schools offering programs in diesel and heavy equipment technology. Pointing out that AED accredited nine new schools last year, he says proudly, “We are driving change for the workforce.”
In reaction to AEDF’s efforts, Brian Colgan, chief strategy officer, Caterpillar Foundation, says he scheduled a meeting with The AED Foundation to learn more about what they’d been working on. “We focused on the problem – the skills gap – and looked at data and expected investments. We wanted to figure out what we can do. We were looking for solutions.” In the end, he says they “flipped the narrative” by donating to the scholarship fund to “ensure the industry is setting the bar.”
Colgan goes on to explain that through a collective effort with its partners, the Caterpillar Foundation achieved its previous goal of empowering 50 million people out of poverty by 2020. With that in mind, the Caterpillar Foundation recently refreshed its strategy.
“The Caterpillar Foundation is focused on building resilient communities that thrive in a rapidly changing world,” Varghese elaborated. They help do this by investing in the skills people need to join the modern workforce. “We like to invest in people, so we had conversations with our partners, stakeholders and industry leaders to understand the daily issues.”
What they came up with was a new strategy to support opportunities to develop the workforce by encouraging science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education in middle and high schools and working with high schools interested in promoting curricula that lead to careers in the heavy equipment industry.
To become part of the workforce, students need an education. To assist students in continuing their technical education for a career as a technician, The AED Foundation will use the Caterpillar Foundation’s donation to create 100 scholarships for high school students – “and provide tools,” Colgan adds, “which is a barrier to entry for some.”
Initially, a two-year program, Colgan explains it – will target five schools in regions with the highest need in 2020 and expand that reach in 2021. “We plan to start small, track the success and then scale.”
The amount of the Caterpillar Foundation’s donation was based, in part, on the number of people who visited their booth at CONEXPO to learn about what they do and participate in their immersive experience called The Community Builder, which showcased the issues and decisions facing leaders who are building stronger, more sustainable communities. “We tracked attendance the first day,” Colgan explains, “and were in the range [of the proposed donation amount].”
Blake says they have only five high schools now, but they want to “build the pipeline,” something they’ll be able to do with this donation, which will fund $2,000 scholarships for 50 students. “We hope to add five more schools during the third quarter this year.”
“We’re working with The AED Foundation to assess areas of most need,” Colgan indicates. He says the Caterpillar Foundation is leaving the criteria for scholarship qualification to The AED Foundation. “We want to give them flexibility.” The only stipulation the Caterpillar Foundation has placed on their donation is that the money be allocated for students entering trade schools. “High school students must enter the trade,” he confirms.
The AED Foundation is still working on the specifics, but Blake says they’ve made a good start and have established a workforce development committee, along with a subcommittee, to manage the grant. Among those he hopes to see appointed to the selection committee is one of the newly crowned AEDF Technicians of the Year.
This innovative program is a wake-up call for the other manufacturers, Blake believes, many of whom he hopes to see contribute to the scholarship fund.
Meanwhile, thanks to the donation from the Caterpillar Foundation, the plan is to implement this program for the fall 2020 school year, Colgan says, acknowledging that the COVID-19 quarantine situation may alter the schedule.
“We don’t want to rush this. We want to do it right. Our goal is to be sustainable and scalable, so we’ll launch it when we can.” No matter when it begins, he says, it will be impactful.