Tractors for schools

Case IH donated three tractors to technical schools, providing hands-on learning opportunities to better prepare next-generation agriculture equipment technicians.

Tractors are pretty technical machines, controlled by computers and complex hydraulic systems, making qualified mechanics in demand.

That’s why equipment dealers and manufacturers are taking initiative to recruit kids as early as middle school to consider a career in diesel mechanics.

“It’s not just turning a wrench anymore. You can make really good money, have great job security and companies are going to help pay for it,” said Sarah Kenz, a recruiter for Titan Machinery based in West Fargo, North Dakota.

Titan, a Case IH dealership that serves 10 states, has worked with colleges in its territory over the last decade to train mechanics. Students essentially become Case IH employees, working paid internships at dealerships while they study. The company helps pay tuition and buys all of the required tools and tool boxes.

Titan sponsors 50 students a year. In exchange, the student signs a four-year agreement in which they agree to work at a Titan dealership during the two years of school and for two years afterward.

“The program is really geared toward creating that talent pipeline,” Kenz said.

Recruiting students has meant trying to buck trends in education. For decades, high school counselors tended to direct students toward four-year universities. Titan tries to send the message that there’s a good future in trades like diesel mechanics, and it’s a pretty technical field.

“There was a time we could hire a kid that came off the farm,” said Mike Weisenberger, who is in charge of training at Titan. “The equipment we sell has gotten to be so complex and so sophisticated.”

People often think of mechanic work as dirty, greasy, hard labor. To change that perception, Case IH invites high school teachers and counselors to tour campuses and talk about the mechanics field today. The company also offers high school juniors and seniors a paid internship as a part-time dealership employee so they can explore what a career in mechanics entails.

Kenz said those efforts have encouraged more kids without a farm background to consider the field.

“They might enjoy technology or problem solving,” she said. “Students that have a tech mindset are making great mechanics because they use so much technology.”

North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton, North Dakota is one Titan’s largest partners in the program. Enrollment in the school’s diesel technology program has grown in recent years to about 250 students a year.

This coming fall, the students will have a new Case IH tractor on which to learn. Titan donated three new Maxxum, Puma and Optum model tractors to its partner schools. Along with the school in Wahpeton, tractors went to Lake Area Technical Institute in Watertown, South Dakota and Parkland Community College in Champaign, Illinois.

The tractor is an important part of learning about the latest technology, said Mike Redding, diesel instructor at the science college in Wahpeton. It helps the students get familiar with today’s tractors and the latest tools.

“It gives him that step ahead for going to work for that dealer,” Redding said.

Prospective students like the idea of working with new equipment, and they like the earning potential of a career as a diesel technician. Interns make $15 to $18 an hour, and graduates start their full time work making more than $20 an hour, Redding said. Plus they could move into management positions in five to six years.

“There’s a lot of opportunity getting into this business,” he said.

The training program is an opportunity for students to learn a high paying trade and an opportunity for dealerships to staff their shops with highly training employees.

“The real win is for our customers that we’re able to support them on this sophisticated equipment that they bought from us,” Weisenberger said.

Janelle is editor of the Tri-State Neighbor, covering South Dakota, southwestern Minnesota, northwestern Iowa and northeastern Nebraska. Reach her at jatyeo@tristateneighbor.com or follow on Twitter @JLNeighbor