Community-Based School-To-Work Initiatives

By: Steve Johnson Issue: Education & Workforce Development Section: Inspiration

A Powerful Workforce Development Approach

Community Based School To Work Initiatives Whether your business is automotive, truck, farm equipment or construction equipment, a common thread among these industries is the critical short- and long-term shortage of skilled workers.

This is particularly true in the case of the nationwide shortage of equipment industry repair technicians. Dealer members of Associated Equipment Distributors (AED) would hire several thousand technicians right now if they could find them, according to AED Foundation surveys.

The construction equipment industry offers some excellent, in-demand career opportunities that provide interesting and challenging work, financial rewards, job stability, as well as opportunities for personal and professional growth.

But, it’s up to the industry to get out there and deliver that message.

The AED Foundation is committed to developing workforce solutions to this equipment industry dilemma. One key Foundation initiative is its school partnership program – a two-pronged effort that is simple and yet simply profound in its impact for rebuilding a well-trained technician population.

Step 1: AED has developed and regularly updates its own rigorous national equipment industry technical standards through the efforts of AED industry task forces comprised of equipment dealers, manufacturers and technical schools. AED has deliberately set the technical education bar high in order to achieve the ultimate objective: Highly skilled repair technicians who are prepared to meet the challenges at construction equipment dealer service shops.

Step 2: Using AED’s technical standards as its criteria, the Foundation is actively establishing partnerships with post-secondary school technical programs around the country. The AED Accreditation and the AED Recognized Education Alliance programs have the win-win benefit of giving technical colleges a national status that helps them gain funding and new access to dealer resources and infusing the equipment distribution industry with thousands of graduating entry-level technicians. Currently, there are 23 AED-affiliated colleges and The Foundation is well on its way toward building a network of 70 accredited/ recognized technical schools over the next few years, which will send more than 1,400 qualified technicians into the workforce annually.

Community-based school-to-work initiatives are the model for The AED Foundation’s workforce efforts through these industry school partnerships. Central to the concept is local dealer engagement with technical schools, encouraging local dealers and technical schools to work together to address and meet mutual needs.

Why does the Foundation feel this local engagement is essential?

As equipment technology becomes increasingly sophisticated and complex, educational institutions must stay current to meet industry needs. Most career and technical schools struggle because of scarce program resources, and therefore may not be able to achieve the rigorous AED technical standards without local dealer involvement and support. In other words, collective efforts locally, provide the means to continuously improve these technical programs and raise educational standards.

Local equipment distributors provide insight to program administrators and instructors about what the industry needs and expects from new graduates, enabling schools to provide programs that meet local employer needs. Additionally, local industry can provide students with support that encourages and enables them to pursue higher education in equipment technology. This can include financial assistance in the form of work-study programs, scholarships, loans, summer jobs, and paid internships. Nonfinancial support is equally important and includes mentoring, career planning advice, unpaid internships, and continuous encouragement.

Student recruitment is core to solving dealers’ needs for qualified entry-level technicians and financially sustaining technical programs with sufficient enrollment. Recruitment for career and technical schools tends to be predominantly local, driven by the fact that most students seek jobs within close proximity to their community of origin. Pooling their combined resources, local school-dealer partnership groups can implement significantly stronger, more effective recruiting strategies.

And, strategy is the operative word here: Dealers need to be working right now on recruiting and developing the technicians they will hire one, two or even five years down the road. That will require a comprehensive local effort at the middle/junior high school, high school and post-secondary levels.

An effective strategy involves more than job ads, promotion and advertising. It’s more than donating money and materials to local schools. Students have many attractive technical career options, and today’s job market requires a real grassroots approach.

This includes, among other things:

Gaining students’ attention and interest for this career option Changing perceptions of the job and industry Working directly with and assisting students, and Working with schools that effectively educate students.

Many people talk about the equipment industry “image,” and it’s certainly a valid concern. And while a variety of approaches are available to polish up that image, The AED Foundation’s community-based, school-to-work strategy is achieving hundreds of industry image success stories. More and more students continue to choose our industry because of local people taking a personal interest in their future.

Steve Johnson is the Executive Director of The AED Foundation, a nonprofit division of Associated Equipment Distributors. His responsibilities include the development and implementation of effective workforce development and professional education initiatives for AED-member construction equipment distributors.