The Job and Journey of an ETL

Evaluation Team Leaders (ETLs) play an invaluable role in supporting The AED Foundation’s (AEDF) accreditation and reaccreditation of college diesel-equipment technology programs by providing experienced counsel and a field presence.

ETLs are “the liaison between the school, The AED Foundation and the industry,” explains Kent Berklund, retired department head at AVTEC, Alaska’s Vocational Technical Center. As the “question-and-answer go-to people,” ETLs guide schools and instructors through the process of certification, he says. Relying on their experience, they can offer “different views or approaches to challenges.”

Typically, a team of two or three ETLs representing a cross-section from around the country conducts a nominal number of school visits a year, based on their availability. “We are asked to do at least three evaluations per year,” Berklund notes.

“There are three types of visits,” he continues. The gap analysis visit occurs at the behest of the school in the beginning stages of the accreditation process, at which time the school assesses its existing program to detect shortcomings in the curriculum, training aids or equipment needed to comply with accreditation requirements. “It’s a two-day process – all the course content competencies are addressed to see where there might be gaps in the school’s content versus the AEDF requirements.” During this visit, ETLs can establish a process for the school to achieve accreditation.

The second kind of visit is for accreditation. An evaluation team verifies that the school has met the requirements for AED Foundation accreditation. The third type is a reaccreditation visit when the ETLs confirm that the school remains in compliance with The AED Foundation requirements.

“One ETL is usually sent out to do the gap analysis visits,” says Ivan Bullock, Idaho State University-Workforce Training instructor, and two ETLS are typically assigned to do an accreditation or reaccreditation visit. “Sometimes, a third member may be assigned for training purposes.” AED Foundation accredited schools must be visited by an assigned team of two AEDF Evaluation Team Leaders every five years.

An agenda is set for the school visit, sometimes preceded by a meet-and-greet the night before. Dennis Goodman, president of Equipstar LLC (an equipment dealership consulting company), says ETLs tour the facility, including labs and classrooms, checking to see how they’re set up, examining the cleanliness, organization and safety practices.

They meet with administrators, instructors, staff, students and the advisory board. Berklund likes to casually mingle with students and ask informal questions about what they like and what they would like to see improved.

“They audit class curricula, including lesson plans, worksheets and assessments, and observe students in the laboratory,” adds Tim Dell, professor and diesel and heavy equipment coordinator at Pittsburg State University. They check training facilities, training aids and equipment, as well as all components, machines and the tool room to ensure that the program meets all AEDF technical standards and that a safe environment is provided for students.

A preliminary report is offered as early as the exit interview with the school administration. During the meeting, ETLs list a program’s good points, along with areas that need work and suggestions for additional enhancements.

Impact statement

The AED Foundation accreditation program has a substantial impact on schools. As Bullock points out, most college programs are required to have an affiliation with an accrediting body that ensures they meet the needs of the students and the industry. Until The AED Foundation stepped in, he says, “Heavy equipment programs were not finding appropriate accreditation that met their needs.”

Working with equipment dealers, interested stakeholders and colleges to develop technical standards and an accreditation process, The AED Foundation set a goal of filling the industry’s need for trained technicians.

The plan was so successful that it saw a significant increase in the number of schools seeking accreditation and reaccreditation. In 2008, Bullock was recruited by Steve Johnson to become an ETL to help AEDF keep up with evaluations. “The AED Foundation saw an increase in the numbers of AED Foundation accredited schools and some of the early schools were due for their five-year reaccreditation.”

“The accreditation process is intense,” says Doug Hammond, department chair, State University of New York at Cobleskill. When the standards changed in 2017, the curricula had to evolve to reflect those changes. “If anything was added or changed, schools had to adjust.”

The work that ETLs do helps The AED Foundation, but school administrators are undoubtedly interested in hearing from them too. Dell believes because when ETLs point out areas that need improvement, instructors can acquire additional resources to deliver an improved curriculum, which ultimately benefits the students.

Success also derives from the experience of the ETLs who have long-standing relationships with the dealers and understand what the students need to be able to do on the job. “We have a background in the industry,” Hammond points out. “We want the industry to thrive.”

“The AED Foundation accreditation sets a standard for the industry and assures that the accredited schools are turning out the product dealers need,” Goodman says.

That “product” is students – students who can rest assured that the heavy equipment programs they attend will impart the necessary skills they need to find employment opportunities with companies that recognize the benefits of hiring from AED Foundation-accredited programs.

Students and the industry have intertwined end goals. The quality training that leads to gainful employment for students also ensures that the industry acquires qualified employees. Accredited schools supply a reliable source of entry-level technicians trained to established technical standards.

Companies get to hire appropriately educated students, Dell summarizes. “The students receive an education that is on target, enabling them to hit the ground running when entering the workforce. The industry can hire the necessary workforce that is needed for the future.”

The ETL experience

By providing input and guidance on curriculum and training, ETLs ensure that students at AED Foundation-accredited schools “are learning the skills local employers deem necessary to fill the needs of local area businesses,” Bullock states.

“Our role is to assure that the programs the schools offer meet everyone’s needs,” Berklund says. “In education, it is important to have outside verification of your programs.” Outside scrutiny verifies that the school, its program and the instructors are adhering to established standards and providing value to the students.

Incorporating external advisory people makes the program accountable to the industry, Hammond believes. In addition, he says it “makes our program stand out and gives us a reason for what we’re doing.”

Berklund became involved with AEDF around 1999 when his school became one of the first to accredit their diesel/heavy equipment program. He volunteered to become an AEDF ETL in 2015 to “help other instructors work through the process and provide another set of eyes to schools [working] through the certification process.” He enjoys seeing how schools address the “universal issues” involved in career and technical education and helping them keep abreast of changes in technology, as well as “convincing administrations to support instructor training as a key part of the certification process.” He also enjoys the travel involved and is known for unexpected drop-in visits if he happens to be in a school’s vicinity with time on his hands.

At about the same time Berklund got involved with AEDF, Dennis Massingham was teaching diesel technology at a state college in Wasilla, Alaska, where he recognized the need for third-party accreditation and industry accountability. When he realized that The AED Foundation was kick-starting their accreditation program, he requested to be one of the first ten schools in the pilot project spearheaded by Steven Johnson. “There was a high energy level at the time with everyone involved, and I had the feeling this was going to grow into something great.”

Understanding the benefits of a strong industry-education relationship and having been through the accreditation process at his school, with the “challenges of making a program accreditation-ready,” Massingham wanted to help others with the process. “The biggest benefit for me was to witness the best practices and innovative learning tools other programs were using. What a great way to share ideas and innovative teaching techniques such as training aids, curriculum and policy.” In addition to sharing his own experiences and expertise, he adopted some of the ideas he saw to improve his program.

Tony Tice, a training manager for Thompson Machinery Commerce Corp., says the most enjoyable aspect of his role as an ETL is to “share best practices with other instructors around the country.” As a part-time consultant for Thompson Machinery, he was already helping to set up a systematic training program for technicians. After contacting The AED Foundation to learn what he needed to do to build a more robust workforce, he went on to become an ETL. This allowed him to meet others with similar backgrounds and goals – namely, “to see individuals succeed within the heavy equipment industry through vigorous training programs and meaningful internships.”

Like Massingham, Dennis Stephenson of Prairie View A&M University in Prairie View, Texas, became an ETL in the fall of 2019 and was attracted to the role due to a sense of community. “I want to help attract more students into the machinery industry.”

Like them, two-year veteran Goodman has altruistic intentions. After working with OSU at Okmulgee, Oklahoma, for several years and seeing a need for “some type of certification,” he discovered the AEDF program and “figured it was time to give back to the industry.”

What ETLs give back is invaluable. Dell says site visits allow ETLs the “opportunity to add value to the programs by being another set of eyes.” With boots on the ground, they offer a helping hand. He believes ETLs help schools take positive steps with curricula and laboratory experiences.

After three years of experience as an ETL, Dell believes that “everyone can gain from the experience, including students, programs and instructors. However, ETLs can gain additional best practices with every site visit they make. You are always learning with every program visit.”

As Berklund likes to say, ETLs are committed to quality training for “hire” education.

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