SALEM, Ohio – It’s said that computer technology in today’s farm equipment directly compares with that aboard the first spacecraft to land on the moon – and systems are continually evolving.
But as technology pushes forward and manufacturers hammer away at the latest science, one thing remains constant: when the tractor’s broken, it’s got to be fixed.
In steps Deere and Company. The corporation has set up career partnership programs at universities and technical schools across North America that link dealerships with students interested in the hands-on aspects of management, repair, parts service and sales. Upon completion, students are ready for immediate transition into the dealership work force.
“Companies are working with complicated computers, and someday we’re going to have a driverless tractor. But when it’s broken, there better be someone to get it back up and running,” said Tom Hughes, manager of college partnerships for Deere and Company.
Not in my shop. In an era where tools in a farmer’s shop don’t get the job done, or when computer chips are the source of trouble, there is an increasing need for dealerships to handle the job – and a need for qualified technicians to diagnose and repair the machinery.
“John Deere was uniquely intuitive to foresee their needs and develop these programs,” said Jim Papritan, professor of agricultural and construction systems management at Ohio State University.
Ohio state is one of eight across the country to offer the program’s management track, which Papritan helps coordinate.
The effects of Deere’s rapid dealer expansion in the late ’70s are now felt as an aging work force – the average age of technicians is 41 – retires or moves to other jobs. The new vacancies in management and shop positions require “someone with something between the ears,” and usually cannot be filled by someone with limited experience.
The dealerships were also having difficulty recruiting employees with equipment-specific knowledge.
“When a farmer pays $250,000 for a combine, they want people who know what they’re doing to service it. And they don’t want to have the combine back in the shop a few weeks later,” Papritan said.
Competency. “There’s a great demand for people with a strong knowledge of electrical systems and hydraulics,” said Bernie Goedde, who teaches technician courses at Owens Community College near Toledo.
“Today’s workers need to know more than ever. I’ve seen that some students are competent in repair but lack the other knowledge they need,” he said.
Owens offers a two-year associate of applied science degree, which can include the Deere repair technician option. Ohio State’s plan is a four-year bachelor’s degree and only involves the management aspect.
History. The first John Deere partnership began in 1990 in Nebraska, and since then, thousands of students have graduated from the program.
“Since we got involved about three years ago, we’ve had about six OSU students working for dealers across Ohio each summer,” Papritan said, noting students can opt for work experience any academic quarter. He hopes to increase student and dealer participation as the program takes off.
Goedde estimated more than 100 students have graduated from Owens through the program, and Hughes estimated more than 3,000 students have participated since its inception.
Students with an agricultural and construction systems management major or minor are eligible to participate in the Ohio State plan, according to facilitator Bev Barrick. The company supplies the school with scholarship money for participants, but keeps a hands-off approach to the dealer-student relationship.
All the latest. The Owens program is nearly identical. In addition to scholarships, John Deere also provides the school its latest technology, including computers, specialty tools, and a rotating stock of equipment, both new and used.
“Some of the older stuff is used for engine and transmission repair in the labs, and lets us focus on diagnostics,” Goedde said. “We can actually hook up the laptop and see where the problem is.”
In addition to learning features specific to John Deere equipment, students are also required to work at a dealership.
“I’ve learned a good deal at the dealership and in the classroom,” said Jeff Knueve of St. Henry, Ohio, a second year student at Owens. “I like the hands-on lab work, and can’t stand a lot of book work, so the program fits me well.”
Classmate Clayton Waddle from Washington Court House, Ohio, credits the hands-on work for his academic achievement and enjoys program flexibility.
“My grade point average is probably higher now than it ever was in high school, and that’s because I’m learning what I really want to know,” he said. “And I’ve got options when I graduate to either go back to the farm or get a job with a dealer.”
Well-rounded. The management track involves courses required by Ohio State for a bachelor’s degree, plus at least one quarter of dealership employment.
“They just throw you in there and let you experience a little of everything,” said Zach Hetterick, a senior at OSU who interned with a dealership for two quarters. The Felicity, Ohio, native said workplace interaction taught him more about how business is done and customer relations than any classroom could have.
“Plus, you start to realize why you learned what you did at school, and can use what you learned working in the classroom,” he said.
Dealer operators see benefits, too.
“The problem in dealerships is that most young people no longer grow up on farms,” said Joyce McCutcheon of Elder Ag and Turf in East Palestine, Ohio.
“This is a great way to get experience and is also a stepping stone because of the educational foundations that are built. Students coming out of the program know more than how to turn a wrench,” she said.
The company has employed several students through its seven-year involvement with the program and often hires graduates.
No easy task. “This is high-tech – it’s not your high school ag program,” said Goedde, who spent 10 years working as a technician for Deere.
Students are extremely marketable when they graduate from the courses he teaches, he said, a fact that is evident from calls he fields from dealers across the United States seeking graduates.
And against what might be traditional beliefs, not all graduates are males from a farm background.
“About 75 percent are from the farm community, and I’ve had a few young ladies go through here,” Goedde said, “but we start with the fundamentals, so anyone can learn.”
Goedde also said he’s found the female participants tend to pay greater attention to detail and “pick up on the book work quicker and easier.”
The teaching method can also be credited for the success of a number of international students in the program nationwide, Hughes said.
Excel at work. Perhaps the biggest draw for young people to get involved in the program is the career flexibility.
“When these kids graduate, they can walk right into the dealership and be hired without extra training,” said Papritan. “They’re qualified to work for a Deere dealership anywhere in the world, or can keep their roots right at home.”
While there are no guarantees to be hired by a specific dealer, most students find employment rather easily because of their skills, Goedde said.
“Even as we get young people going through our program, we can’t fill the pipeline fast enough,” said Hughes. “In the past, a lot of these students wouldn’t have considered college at all. This gives them an avenue to get a career, not just a job.”
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Learn to earn more
Technician. In addition to John Deere features, the specialized Owens curriculum involves courses on:
* diesel fuels;
* welding; and
* air conditioner certification.
Students are also required to work in a dealership. On-the-job experience teaches lessons such as:
* machine set-up;
* engine and drivetrain repair and rebuilding;
* electrical system diagnostics and repair; and
* tractor performance including ballasting, fuel system, diagnostics and repair.
Similar programs are also offered through Caterpillar, Freightliner, Williams Detroit Diesel and Allison Transmission, General Motors and Ford Motor Company.
To learn more about Owens Community College’s agricultural technician program, contact Bernie Goedde at 419-661-7431 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Management. The Ohio State track involves courses that detail:
* internal combustion power;
* agricultural materials and processes;
* accounting; and
* agricultural systems management and production.
Dealership employment covers:
* John Deere parts software;
* equipment sales;
* customer relations;
* product demonstrations and clinics;
* showroom organization;
* advertising and Web site coordination; and
* management duties.
(You can contact Andrea Myers at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at email@example.com.)