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Lining Up For Tech Classes in Oklahoma

The technical programs at Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology (OSUIT) are always full. In fact, there’s a waiting list, according to Terryl Lindsey, dean of the School of Transportation & Heavy Equipment, who oversees nine of the tech programs.

That’s good news for an equipment service industry suffering from a shortage of trained technicians. “There’s no way I could keep up with the number of technicians the industry needs,” Lindsey says – but OSUIT is certainly doing its part to fill the void.
 
OSU Institute of Technology

Founded in 1946, the college is a recognized leader in applied technology education. “We have a good reputation,” Lindsey says humbly. Known for its world-class facilities and its 99.8% hire rate, OSUIT attracts students from a five-state radius for the Cat program, from the “lower 48” for the truck program, from the Midwest for the ag program, and multiple states and even Brazil and Mexico for the Komatsu program.

The number of Latino students is rising, as is the female sector, Lindsey reports. Classes aren’t just for recent high school grads, either. “We retrain lawyers, civil engineers, guys with master’s degrees…”
Thanks to its partners in the industry, with whom OSUIT developed 36-degree programs designed to prepare students for the workforce, the Okmulgee, Oklahoma-based college created academic coursework reflective of emerging market trends, along with practical training internships specifically conceived to prepare students to transition from classroom to career in order to fill the continuing demand for highly qualified industry technicians.

Their department of Workforce & Economic Development cultivates relationships with companies, for whom OSUIT customizes training, research, best practices and more. But when OSUIT became one of the AED-accredited schools for two of its programs (Cat Dealer Prep and Komatsu ACT), its level of quality increased even more. The school’s agricultural program is not currently AED-accredited, but Lindsey says they’re in the process.

 “Accreditation allowed us to organize our programs,” Lindsey explains. “It’s a different mindset.” To meet AED expectations, he says they now break the curriculum into segments that flow logically. “We make our curriculum fit AED guidelines, but they provided structure and gave us ideas on what was important … and what we left out.”

Working with The AED Foundation has been a positive experience, he continues, emphasizing how much they appreciate the structure AED provided. “It’s easy for faculty and students to follow.”

Program benefits

While the structure has been a significant asset, AED accreditation has also assisted OSUIT in other ways. Equipment dealers who have partnered with the college provide training aids, such as equipment, including engines, transmissions and final drives. “I maintain $4 million worth of construction equipment,” Lindsey calculates, adding that it is a very conservative estimate.

Most of the equipment is on loan and will go into a dealer’s rental fleet upon return. If Lindsey needs new technology for classes, he says he can call the sponsors, who “take care of what the students need.”
The students are 100% sponsored by partnering dealers, Lindsey adds. “They’re hired before I even get them.” With a graduation rate pushing 95%, it’s a lucrative investment.

The relationship benefits the dealers in other ways beyond providing a pool of future employees. Lindsey says ten students and two semesters of schooling results in $1 million in parts sales – “and that doesn’t include labor sales!”

Students

In return, many of the dealer sponsors pay the students’ tuition, room and board; some pay partial tuition and others reimburse costs after graduation. Komatsu even pays 100% of the AED certification test.
Finishing school with a job and little or no school loan debt is an enormous boost. Lindsey points out that, according to U.S. News & World Report, OSUIT is one of the top three in the western region for the least amount of student debt.

This is part of the lure contributing to the waitlist. “We don’t recruit,” Lindsey says. The equipment dealers who partner with them have recruiters on staff. “They’re sort of headhunters for jobs.” However, he is “fixing to hire a support specialist” to assist with recruitment and to maintain relationships with the companies who participate in the programs. That includes five Cat dealers, 10 Komatsu dealers, and five in the Western Equipment Dealers Association (WEDA) program, which is expanding.

OSUIT’s industrial and farm equipment degree program sponsored by the Western Equipment Dealers Association aims to upgrade the technical competency and professional level of new equipment technicians. Graduates with an associate degree in applied science in diesel and heavy equipment are prepared to enter the workforce as trained service technicians who can diagnose problems and perform factory-recommended service procedures, Lindsey elaborates.

With a maximum class size of 20, students get individualized attention. In addition, they spend half a semester working as a paid intern at the sponsoring dealers, where seasoned techs are mentoring them. “They’re only away from home one year [in a two-year program],” Lindsey observes: two months of school, followed by two months of paid internship. Not only does that allow them to apply what they just learned to real-world situations, but he thinks it helps the graduation rate because they don’t get homesick from being away for an extended period of time, and it allows them to earn an income.

The future

Lindsey says 80% of OSUIT’s graduates are working in the industry. “There are more career paths than people think. They have the ability to move up to management, training or work on the floor their entire career.” One graduate is the lead trainer for Cummins. Some have been hired to teach at the college.

Wherever they decide to work, a diploma from an AED-accredited school like OSUIT provides “one more piece of paper,” Lindsey says. “It’s proof they can do the job. It makes them worth more money.”

Not only proof, but it’s a guarantee that they can do the job. “We guarantee our students,” Lindsey states. “We will retrain them for free if they can’t perform their job.” So far, no student has ever had to be retrained.

Instead, they’re gainfully employed in the industry, earning a good wage. It’s not uncommon to make six digits, Lindsey says of graduates from OSUIT. As a 1982 graduate himself, he says he never worries about paying the bills or taking care of his family.

It’s hard work, he continues – a lot of hard work, but it’s honest work and there’s plenty of it. Longtime technicians are preparing to retire, Lindsey believes. Soon, there will be a big void. “These students are the replacements.”

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