The following story is an excerpt from a feature in Rural Lifestyle Dealer's spring issue, "Maximizing the Impact of Seasonal Employees." The article is part of the 2017 Season-to-Season series and profiles Williams Tractor of Fayetteville, Ark.
Go out in your shop and check the age of your technicians. If your shop matches the national average, many of them will soon be leaving. Estimates are that as many as half of the mechanics working today will retire within 10 years, according to DieselTechJobs.com. So, now might be the perfect time to get involved with your local technical school to find replacements.
Carl Desens, an instructor at the Northwest Technical Institute in Springdale, Ark., says that all vocational schools would value closer relationships with local dealers, even if ag equipment is not their focus. He says, “We focus on trucking careers, but we’ve had a relationship with Williams Tractor in Fayetteville for decades. They may not be truck-focused, but we still need their input to make the program successful and applicable across all industries. Service Manager Randy Huck, as a member of our advisory board, helps us understand the traits needed from new technicians.”
Desens says, “There are differences between the industries, but the basics of braking and electrical systems, engines and air conditioners are universal. If students understand the fundamentals, they can work with a dealership to fine-tune their ability on specific equipment.
“Tech schools need input from local industry. They’re a huge help in making the programs better, benefiting the instructors and students. It’s a working relationship that has to be established. Otherwise, the programs are not as strong as they could be. To get involved, all dealers have to do is call the school or an instructor and let them know you want to be involved.
“Let them know you’d like to be a part of their support network and find out what you can do to help. For instance, you could serve on the board, offer a scholarship, or donate some equipment they can use. There’s a school in Oklahoma that has dealers who sponsor applicants. Part of the agreement is that they supply equipment for 3-6 months to train students and at the end of that time, that piece of equipment comes back. Or, dealers can teach a class or come talk about what the dealership is about and what opportunities the industry offers.”
He says, “At technical schools, you can get students involved in internships or part-time work and show them what a good career it can be, so maybe they want to come back to you. Not all kids are cut out to work on big equipment. Usually between 3-5% of the kids are interested in off-road equipment, such as what Williams Tractor sells, and we’ve recently seen an increase in those numbers. I have one student that scored high on his ACT, but he doesn’t want to go to college. Another has a degree and found out he didn’t enjoy that career path and wanted to get into a ‘hands on’ job.
“Most students enter school planning to work in selected industries, from marine to earth moving equipment. It’s happened on several occasions, though, that a young person took a job outside of what they originally wanted to pursue, like at an equipment dealership, and decided they wanted to stay there,” Desens says.
Todd Tokar, Williams Tractor’s assistant service manager, says there are additional benefits to partnering with a technical school. “They’re pre-selecting part-time prospects to send us because we have a good relationship. We’ve had some really good kids that have stayed with us after they got out of school. We’ve also had some good ones that worked with us through high school and college and then moved on, but that’s 4 or 5 years of good help, so it’s worked out well for us,” Tokar says.
The problem of retiring mechanics is not unique to equipment dealerships. According to the American Trucking Assn., as many as 20,000 new mechanics may be needed to replace a workforce that will soon be retiring. That’s why supporting local vocational schools and employing their students for seasonal work while selling them on a career with your business may be the best path toward longevity for your service department.