Skilled Labor Jobs Provide Great Opportunities for Students

Skilled Labor Jobs Provide Great Opportunities for Students

Guest writer Steve Johnson shares a blog post this week on a topic that has been of great interest to our industry: Skilled Labor Jobs Provide Great Opportunities for Students.

The need for more workers in the skilled trades is not a new topic. I have been writing about this subject for at least twenty years. There has been some progress in recruiting more young people for these great job opportunities. That being said, Kristin Altus reports in on August 4, 2023, “Job expert pushes back on cultural ‘stigma’ having a ‘disturbing’ impact on skilled work, generational handoff.” Also that, “Blue collar jobs see double-digit demand as industries try to integrate US supply chain.” The need for workers in the skilled trades remains a big issue.  

In talking with my industry contacts, I still hear much the same. The dealer recruitment needs for highly-qualified technicians in automotive, construction equipment, agriculture equipment and heavy truck remain unfulfilled. It’s still a challenge to interest students to explore these jobs and make the commitment to attend a high-quality two-year program in equipment technology. 

Obstacles to becoming an equipment technician are not what you might think. Consider this: 

  • Technician demand is still high, and has been for a number of years. In talking with school instructors, many new technician graduates have multiple job offers. These offers typically come from companies in a student’s local area, where studies have shown they prefer to be employed.  
  • Gaining the necessary education isn’t the obstacle one might think. Career and technical colleges are looking for graduating high school students with good communication and speaking skills who have done well in mathematics and science classes. Finding those schools is not difficult. Well-established trade organizations such as The AED Foundation (Associated Equipment Distributors) provide search tools for excellent academic institutions. Other local technical school options are easily searched on the internet. 
  • College scholarships and loans are available in the equipment industry. Many equipment dealers provide this type of assistance to help the students go from college student to dealer employed technician as quickly as possible. Tools scholarships and/or financial assistance from dealers and manufacturers are common. It’s not uncommon for those studying equipment technology to graduate debt free. Trade organizations such as IEDA, The Independent Equipment Dealers Association, also provide scholarship opportunities. Individual association members can also provide much information and welcome the opportunity to talk with students about careers in their industry. 
  • Looking online, the issue is not pay. I have observed that many newly graduated technicians from two-year technician programs start with a salary in the range of $35,000 – $45,000. Looking online, shows that the average salary for a Heavy Equipment Field Service Technician in the US in $66,000, with a range from $45,749 to $91,791. With overtime, pay can be even higher. With many dealers, the benefits are also excellent.

So, what’s the largest obstacle when it comes to increasing the supply of qualified technicians? Ms. Altus at Fox Business hit the nail on the head when she states, “A cultural stigma around traditional “blue collar” jobs runs alive and well.” In that article, she cites Mr. Andrew Crapuchettes, CEO of RedBalloon who speaks about this stigma. “Unfortunately, we have this cultural issue where a lot of the baby boomers, which are one of the wealthiest generations ever, is they’ve passed (this stigma) down to the next generation, they said, ‘I worked really hard in a factory, or I worked really hard early on, and then I was able to build a career, and I don’t want that for my kids or my grandkids,’” the CEO explained. “And so there’s this cultural stigma associated with those blue-collar, mixed-collar jobs,” he added. “There are lots of opportunities to work hard, not build $200,000 of school debt, and still be able to support a family and live a really good life. But there’s a stigma associated with this.”

Unfortunately, the old stereotype image of the “grease monkey” lingers; despite the fact that technicians today are highly skilled and are working on highly sophisticated, computer controlled heavy equipment. This includes not only many parents, but also decision influencers like high school and college career counselors. To meet today’s demand for technicians, the equipment industry, and other industries that depend on skilled trade workers, need to focus even more on getting the word out as to the great job opportunities that are available in the skilled trades.

  • Connect with your local college and high school career counselors. Introduce yourself to faculty and staff at middle schools and high schools. Ask for opportunities to visit with groups of students and introduce the technician career. Tailor you presentations to the different age groups you address. Explain to them how technicians today are working with advanced technology in industries that are literally building the future. Show them the variety of career possibilities from the standpoint of salaries, benefits, career growth and career stability. 
  • For those schools with technical programs, also ask faculty how you can support those programs and become active on their Advisory Boards. Provide them with technical information, as well as equipment and parts needed for instruction. Have your technicians provide information to students, and provide learning opportunities for faculty. Participate in career day events. Perhaps you can start a diesel club at your local high school. Develop the long-term relationships that will benefit you in your future recruiting efforts.
  • Develop informational materials that will help show decision-influencers the great career opportunity you can offer students. These can be brochures, videos and information about technical college programs. Look for opportunities to meet with students and their parents. I have always said that workforce development is local. For example, career days at your dealership offer an opportunity for decision-influencers and students to see the “iron” and have individual conversations about career options. Provide opportunities for students to visit and follow a technician for a day, and see firsthand what the job is. Be sure to talk about how you can help students as they prepare for a technician career with assistance in buying tools, summer employment, work-study, scholarships, loans and career advice.

Successful recruitment strategy is a long-term commitment to developing a sustainable technician “pipeline” that meets your needs as your company grows. Take time to lay out a strategy for working with middle schools, high schools and technical colleges and review that plan annually. Talk to the schools and get their ideas for action items to include.  Build a strategy that connects with your decision-influencers multiple times during the year. Some people at dealers will say recruitment is the job of the high schools and colleges. Trust me, as a dealership your success in recruiting is up to you. 

Change Management – Not Just Another Business Cliche

Change Management – Not Just Another Business Cliche

Guest Writer Steve Johnson, one of our educational specialists here at Learning Without Scars, writes today’s post about Change Management, and why it is not just another business cliche.

Entering the year 2023, I have been in a reflective mood. In my years in business, I have walked the critical path, pushed the envelopes, been right-sized, undergone knowledge transfers, sat directly on the cutting edge, jumped out of the box, been taken offline, launched trial balloons, delivered deliverables, lost traction, gone viral, drilled down to the granular level, hunted the BHAG, arrived “just in time,” and sometimes painfully, have had my paradigm shifted on multiple occasions.  There’s always a new book and the following wave of new buzzwords. A person doesn’t have to have been in the business world too long before business jargon starts going from meaningful to meaningless.   

The thriving art of business clichés may evolve into business comedy, however, that does not mean that some of the underlying ideas aren’t important.  For example, consider the topic of “change management.”  A cliché in itself, it has a number of accompanying sub-clichés: company agility, resistance management, the only constant is change, alternative futures, continuous improvement, etc.  There is humor in business clichés, yet successful companies understand that there are serious business implications inherent in many of them, particularly when they cannot navigate change. 

The list of big companies that could not successfully navigate change is long: Washington Mutual, Blockbuster, American Motors, Lord & Taylor, Prime Computer, Bethlehem Steel, PanAm, TWA, Digital Equipment Corporation, Montgomery Ward, Sears, Sports Authority and Faberge to name a few. Over the last few years in the industries that Learning Without Scars works with, OEM profit margins have decreased, the profitability of service departments have become critical to business success, transforming new technologies are becoming dominant, and industry restructuring and consolidation continues in the pursuit of economies of scale and assortment. Businesses are affected by e-commerce, growing rental markets, more small equipment market competition, alternative energy costs, EPA legislation, Tier 4+, and the list goes on. 

Do you have a company plan to address change in the industries you participate in and products you sell?  What about the marketplaces you serve? Do your business structures and processes facilitate optimal performance, customer satisfaction and profitability? Are your employees well-trained and up to the task? Are you able to recognize and capitalize on change, and even perhaps gain market share? At this time in 2023, we may or may not go into a recession, but certainly the time will come when we emerge into the growth stage of the business cycle?  Now is the time to develop solid product/market plans, focus on employee excellence and strategically position your company for the next “industry wave.” 

As you pursue employee excellence in your company, we encourage you to explore educational opportunities at Learning Without Scars for high quality industry- and position-specific education.

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Encouraging Lifelong Learning in Your Company

Encouraging Lifelong Learning in Your Company

Guest writer Steve Johnson contributes to this week’s installment on Lifelong Learning with his blog post, “Encouraging Lifelong Learning in Your Company.”

In my last article, I said to readers, “As a final note, make continuous learning intentional and give it high priority. Continuous learning is your responsibility, not the responsibility of your company, your supervisor or anyone else. To be able to effectively manage your career, you need to plan your future, that is, identify your goals and chart your path for reaching those goals. An important part of that path is going to be continuous learning. Plan your educational future now. In doing that, we encourage you to explore educational opportunities at Learning Without Scars for high quality industry- and position-specific education.”

Given the above, the smart company will still encourage and enable lifelong learning, as it’s in their best interests as well. Another quote from my last article, “At some point in the future, you could find out that management no longer feels you are relevant to attaining the company’s goals. You could find out that the job market feels the same about your resume.” One can say essentially the same thing about a company. At some point in the future, you could find out that your customers and suppliers no longer feel you are relevant to their futures. Investments in employee lifelong learning are investments in your company’s relevance, efficiency and productivity. They are crucial in meeting your customers’ needs, leading to higher customer satisfaction and retention. They are also crucial to employee satisfaction and retention.  Your investment in employees is a clear demonstration of how you value them.

Enabling lifelong learning in your company should be a part of your employee development program. If you don’t have such a program, you should invest in one. As has been said before, “What about the costs?” The usual and correct answer to that is what are the costs of not investing in employee development? Don’t know where to start? Here are some ideas.

  1. Commit to lifelong learning as essential to your company’s ongoing success. For example, one company I worked for started by committing to a minimum of 80 hours each year of continuous education for each employee. Select a qualified employee and assign management of and accountability for the plan. Determine where you are now as a company and where you want to be in a year; and in 2 years or 3 years. The company plan must include specific actions, completion times and results expected. Establish a budget for continuous learning and the systems to support the plan. A company lifelong learning plan will require a system to archive records of educational achievements, support company award programs, facilitate human resource planning and develop individual future educational plans.  
  2. Employee participation is required for their own success, as well as the company’s success. For each employee, define specific learning activities, due dates, results expected. Incorporate short-term and longer-term measurable learning goals into the performance review process. Involve employees in the development of their learning plan; find out where they are and where they see themselves in the future. Make the connection as to how their learning plan relates to their own personal goals. Show employees where there is alignment with their learning plan and both their personal and company success.  It is important for the learning plan to be formally agreed upon initially by both the employee and the supervisor or company’s training representative.   
  3. Link learning outcomes to job qualifications and promotion opportunities; answer the employees’ question, “How can I get there?” Employees need to have a stake in their company as to their possibilities for personal and professional growth. Job design needs to show learning and knowledge requirements in terms of the steps involved in available career paths. This includes various types of organizational knowledge: company policies, financial, supervisory, managerial, human resources, federal and state laws and more. It can also include such things as technical knowledge, computer skills, accounting and financial skills, telephone skills, sales, customer service, group dynamics, and project management.
  4. In reference to the above items, immediate supervisors have a substantial stake in employee learning and development. Their success depends on their employees’ performance. Schedule regular supervisor-employee discussions for review of the individual learning plans in a non-threatening environment. Congratulate employees on their successes and deal with unacceptable results in an encouraging way. Discuss what employees see as obstacles to company expectations and how they can be overcome. Still, employees need to know what the company expectations are and that those expectations need to be met. 
  5. Incorporate different types of learning styles into employee education based on what is most effective for each individual. People learn in different ways such as visual/spatial, auditory/aural, or kinesthetic/physical. As much as possible, tailor learning experiences to the individuals being taught. For example, I’m no car mechanic, but for such subjects, I can learn and then demonstrate my competencies much better in a “hands-on” learning environment. For public speaking, I needed a fair number of live experiences to be comfortable and effective. For me, negotiation skills required both book learning and role playing.  
  6. It can be highly frustrating for employees who are sent for education in areas where they are already competent. Where you can, offer opportunities for “testing out” or demonstrating such skills and knowledge. You may also, however, run into situations where someone thinks much more highly of their competencies than is reality. “Testing out” can reveal the true situation to that employee. For some things where answers are “absolute” or factual, a written test may be most applicable. For other situations that are more situational or “gray,” discussions of performance in real business situations with a company supervisor or mentor may be more suitable. 
  7. Companies need to be able to recommend vetted and approved learning resources for employees to help “show them how to get there,” as mentioned in item 3 above. The company also needs to help connect employees with these resources based on their needs. Develop a library of books and periodicals that reflect best practices in various disciplines like accounting, finance, management, business law and others. The library can include manuals for common business software used. Materials that can support development of skills in project management, team building and the so-called soft skills should not be ignored. Include company hosted opportunities for group sharing and learning. For example, a company may want to bring in an outside provider where all employees participate in team building education. 
  8. Develop and vet a list of outside learning resources that employees can request from company management. These include technical courses, computer software, management training and many other areas where further education can benefit the company. With management approval, this can include tuition reimbursement for programs that provide skills and knowledge relevant to current or future job qualifications. Many companies also reimburse tuition for courses related to attainment of a certificate or college degree. If your worried on your ROI for such education, full reimbursement can be tied to an employee commitment to stay with the employer for a stated period of time.  

Rule number one for such lifelong learning programs is that you have to get started at some point. I encourage you to start by doing something now. At least formulate a basic plan. Give your plan the time needed to achieve expected results. Your plan will evolve as you determine what things work best in your company and the benefits become more and more apparent.  We encourage you to explore educational opportunities at Learning Without Scars for high quality industry- and position-specific education for inclusion in your lifelong learning plans.

Did you enjoy this blog? Read more great blog posts here.
For our course lists, please click here.

Continuous Learning – Learning Without Scars’ Centers of Excellence

Continuous Learning – Learning Without Scars’ Centers of Excellence

In this week’s installment of our blog on Lifelong Learning, our guest writer Steve Johnson gives us this cutting-edge blog post of the way our education programs are taking shape: Continuous Learning – Learning Without Scars’ Centers of Excellence.

Why continuous learning should matter to you…

The Learning Without Scars website makes the statement that, “we know that ‘better’ is the enemy of ‘best,'” and “that everyone needs the knowledge, skills, and tools to continually elevate their own personal and professional development while contributing to the success of their companies and careers.” Learning Without Scars’ business is all about continuous learning: lifelong learning.

Continuous learning is essential for those employees who want to remain valuable to their employers, and advance both personally and professionally. That’s true whether you are climbing the corporate ladder, developing in-depth expertise in your chosen career field, or just want to be a better-informed human being. There are many reasons for you to invest your time and money in yourself through continuous learning. 

Keeping your skills and knowledge current strengthens your value to your employer. If you are not always learning, you’re not even treading water: you’re actually falling behind. In any work environment, development of new information and technology is rapid, and that pace keeps accelerating. At some point in the future, you could find out that management no longer feels you are relevant to attaining the company’s goals. You could find out that the job market feels the same about your resume. 

Continuous learning provides you with more professional resilience both at your company and in the broader business environment and marketplace. It ensures that you have or obtain not only the knowledge and skills requirements for your current job, but also lays the foundation for the next steps in your career path. It can help you stand out among your peers as an important part of the future of your company. It’s not a bad thing to be one of the “go to” people. Sometimes it can be easy to get caught up in the day-to-day operations of your company and lose the big picture of the environment and markets within which you work. Continuous learning can ensure that you exit that cocoon and keep informed of current trends as well as what may be impacting you in the future.  

Your company may be an excellent source for continuous learning, especially in such areas as company culture, products, IT systems, and best practices. They may have both formal and informal opportunities to develop your interpersonal and management skills. It makes good sense to pay attention in your day-to-day work for learning moments, and also for occasions where you can get out of your comfort zone and learn. Networking in your company will allow you to track the pulse of important activities, events and company direction. Networking through professional and industry organizations will give you a feel for the pulse of your industry and the economic environment.  

Take advantage of it when companies offer to enroll you in formal training, within or from outside the company. Alternatively, you can seek out specific education that aligns with your individual needs and goals. For example, I’ve read that many consider one’s personal oral and written communication skills to be critical to career success, and the importance of those skills increases as people pursue their career paths. Maybe “Toastmasters” is in your future. 

Learning Without Scars’ Centers of Excellence

Our efforts to encourage greater continuous learning in the industries we serve continue. A recent focus for Learning Without Scars is developing relationships with public higher learning institutions where these schools will also function as our Centers of Excellence (COE). 

Online, you will find a number of definitions for a COE. Wikipedia says it is a “team, a shared facility or an entity that provides leadership, best practices, research and support or training for a focus area.” It also can be a “network of institutions collaborating with each other to pursue excellence in a particular area.” The Cambridge Dictionary defines a COE as “a place or an organization that is known for doing a particular activity very well, and that is involved in new developments, new ways of working, etc.” We can add to the above, but I think you get the idea. Learning Without Scars is working to develop a network of schools to achieve the above goals and offer excellence in delivering education where it is needed.  

Our plan is to have ten of these Centers in the U.S. and Canada. Courses include new online certification programs offering comprehensive content in equipment dealer parts management and service management. The courses are applicable for heavy equipment dealers, including construction, heavy truck, mining, forestry, light industrial, and agriculture. We are working to soon provide automotive aligned versions of the programs. In the near future, we will also be able to provide dealer sales and marketing programs. Benefits of the new programs include: 

  1. High quality comprehensive curricula from a well-known industry expert; accredited by the International Accreditors for Continuing Education and Training (IACET); and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant.
  2. Content that is current and reviewed annually with IACET.
  3. Assessments are delivered throughout the learning process to measure learning progress.
  4. A Learning Management System available to dealer employees/students that allows both self-paced progress and 24/7 access to courses.
  5. Programs that result in industry credentials to employees and students upon successful completion.

As a final note, make continuous learning intentional and give it high priority. Continuous learning is your responsibility, not the responsibility of your company, your supervisor or anyone else. To be able to effectively manage your career, you need to plan your future, that is, identify your goals and chart your path for reaching those goals. An important part of that path is going to be continuous learning. Plan your educational future now. In doing that, we encourage you to explore educational opportunities at Learning Without Scars for high quality industry- and position-specific education. 

Did you enjoy this blog? Read more great blog posts here.
For our course lists, please click here.


The Importance of “Professionalism” in Recruiting and Retaining Excellent Technicians

The Importance of “Professionalism” in Recruiting and Retaining Excellent Technicians

Guest writer Steve Johnson addresses the important issue of hiring and retaining employees in this week’s post, “The Importance of ‘Professionalism’ in Recruiting and Retaining Excellent Technicians.”

Finding good people and employee retention have for years been tough, relevant issues in the equipment industry, especially with regard to technicians. This also applies to other jobs at your dealership.  The “great resignation” has brought the issue of retention to even greater prominence. Now, some might say, “aw, they’re just lazy, want a handout, have had it too easy,” etc. 

I don’t buy it. 

I’ve seen too many motivated young people at career and technical colleges, at Skills USA and other venues to buy that. I’ve seen too many great employees and great employers who show me a different story to buy that. There are too many young people out there who make great employees at companies that re far-sighted enough to educate them well and provide great career opportunities. There are too many companies out there that manage their retention rates well through expert and informed “professional” human resource management. Here I am not just referring to the human resources department, but the entire organization’s management. 

I remember once asking an equipment dealership owner what he pays beginning techs and mentioned what I thought was an average number. His reply? “Absolutely not, nobody can live on that! In a different mid-career job, I worked for a training organization, and one business owner was angry at me because he had trained all his people and they had all quit and moved on. He said it was my fault. In reality, it was because his shop was far less than desirable as a workplace. Another said he couldn’t find any good techs. Then he told me he was paying them a way below market rate at $8.50 / hour. Seriously? Which of the above was the more professional reaction? 

There have been many articles I’ve read over the years as to why people want to leave their jobs and do leave their jobs. It seems to me that the reasons are not that different today from those years ago… an unlivable wage, no upward mobility, poor leadership, a negative company culture, below standard benefits, a chronically overworked staff, and so forth. I would never expect employees in today’s labor market to stand for that, and apparently many are not. In my opinion, the “great resignation” is largely more an issue of employer human resource management professionalism than an employee issue. 

In summary, my belief is that running a professional organization has everything to do with dealer professionals treating people like the human professionals they are in a professional environment. What does that mean operationally? Here are some thoughts on employees staying or leaving. 

  1. Fair and equitable pay is an important factor; everyone wants to do their best supporting themselves and their families. Fair and equitable benefits are also important; ask anyone who has had medical issues and did not or couldn’t afford to have health insurance.
  2. Is there anyone out there who doesn’t feel burned out at times; needs some personal or family time; or some vacation time to be with their families? How about providing on average a good balance of work/personal life.  
  3. Not all, but most “motivated and productive” employees do want to have continuous learning opportunities, both OTJ and more formal learning, to help them move along in their career into better paying, more responsible jobs. There are other ways to enable this than just “climbing the company management ladder.”
  4. Most employees would like to know that their employers are paying attention to them and their near- and long-range personal and professional goals. Consider that the costs of not paying attention to such things continue to go up.
  5. See #4 above. This is particularly true for all leaders and managers, from parts and service managers all the way to the top management.
  6. Does your company have an employee feedback mechanism to take the company pulse. For example, does management “walk around” the company often to be accessible and get the pulse? What if you found that half your company wouldn’t recommend employment there to a friend? I know of that happening at one company. Does management make an honest effort to find out why people are leaving? Do they act on the collective information results?
  7. Does management set a good professional “work ethic” example to employees; what about employees to other employees. Do the rules apply to everyone? Are honesty, good character, integrity, mutual respect and fairness words that apply to actual practice at the company and are at the top of the company’s value list?
  8. When you hire a new, qualified technician, or even an intern or apprentice, do you have them on the wash bay, or make sure they are working and gaining new experience at the highest level they are qualified for?
  9. Does your shop appear as a professional environment should, or does it hearken back to memories of years ago that preserve the old “grease monkeys” image. Are your employees proud of where they work? Does your employee dress code reflect professionalism or something less desirable? Yes, even maybe uniforms in the shop.
  10. Are up-down and down-up company communication’s what they should be? Does staff communicate well to all concerned parties? This includes any performance reviews… “If we’re doing our job as leaders, a performance review should only be two columns: Column A is what you do great and Column B is what you do not-so-great. Now, here’s how we move things from Column B to Column A.” (Story by Carly Guthrie, Guthrie HR Consulting, San Francisco, CA)

My goal here is to urge you to think about “company professionalism” and how that impacts your companies’ human resource management as you develop a hopefully successful recruitment and retention plan. Yes, the above over-simplifies the issues greatly. However, I believe that if companies work to manage the career interests of new and experienced employees continuously and professionally and give them challenging and rewarding work opportunities in a professional environment, those employees will thrive. So will those companies.

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