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 FoxBusiness.com 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, salary.com 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.