Pictured Above: Richard Dugan (r), the ag technician recruiter and trainer for KanEquip, a 14-store Case IH dealer in Kansas and Nebraska, and Ryan Goertzen (l), vice president of maintenance workforce development for AAR Corp. who oversees 5 maintenance repair and overall facilities in the U.S., both have backgrounds in education and agree that how industries approach schools needs to change. Dealers need to be assertive with the high school and say they are going to provide X, Y and Z and if their curriculum is followed, the students will be ready for a career as a service technician.

Ryan Goertzen , Vice President of Maintenance Workforce Development, AAR Corp.

Richard Dugan , Ag Technician Recruiter & Trainer, KanEquip

Ryan Goertzen: What are some of the things you’re doing that work in hiring technicians?

Richard Dugan: First off, advertising. The way people find out about jobs has changed. How did I find out about this job? Indeed. No longer do you open up the newspaper to see what jobs are out there. We’re trying to find out where ag technicians look for jobs or where they hear about them. One thing we need to do is take out ads on classic rock radio. We want to bring people in to see what being a technician is like. 

Goertzen: That’s one of our challenges. Because everything we do is behind the security fence. The doors are all closed and without heavy access and approved FAA access, you can’t get there.

Dugan: When you said that during your presentation, I thought, “OK, someone’s got it worse than I do.” Because we do encourage students to come to us. 

Goertzen: We try to do the same thing.

Dugan: We want them to come in and see what it’s like because there’s that image that it’s just a dirty job. I tried social media for the young ones, but it’s those who are my age that maybe worked 19 or 20 years at one place and want a career change or someone who’s worked with a dealership for 10 years and is ready to move on. So just finding where we can advertise for them is a challenge. For a 14 store dealership, it’s not cheap. 

“We all are suffering from the same challenge around the perception of working with your hands or this idea that is this really a viable career? And I think as we start to move and we start to change the narrative around what does it mean to be a technician and the fact that it’s a career choice, not a job…”

Goertzen: I just started at AAR in August of last year and we kicked off our Eagle Career Pathway program in October. Having been a college president, I had a good idea of who I needed to recruit. And the Eagle program is just as much about getting students to choose AAR as it is recruiting on the front end for the school. Right now aviation is suffering, there’s not enough people in the pipeline. There’s 171 maintenance schools in the country. They have about 18,000 students in the population and according to the FAA, which regulates those schools and they also regulate us, they’re operating at half capacity. So these schools have the capacity; they need the industry to come alongside them to market to the kids so they choose an aviation based career. 

In our industry, being a technician is a relatively clean job. Because of foreign object damage, we really clean as we go, as a part of our mantra with technicians. And so getting them to see the facility is also something we’re really seeing as we partner with these institutions, helps them market. Ultimately, we get more students to choose from on the back end.

Dugan: That’s one thing that I’ve found with schools. They say, “We need more students. We need more students.” Well, I can get you more students. Some college recruiters can only recruit at certain times. If there are two young men who want to be technicians, I invite them to grab a meal with me. I don’t think a college recruiter could do that. I think there’s an avenue there with the need for technicians. OK, let us help. We have more freedom to say, “Hey, you’re going to become a technician for us. However, we want you to go to school here.” And then that recruiter or the admission rep can say, “OK, well you need this test, this, this and this.”

Goertzen: We actually pair up our marketing department with the school’s marketing department and get joint marketing out of our Eagle Pathway program. Sometimes colleges don’t have a big marketing budget, but if we work together we can develop strategies together to move this aviation pipeline forward. 

We’re looking at almost 80 students a year going through our program at Olive-Harvey College in Chicago. And they started it for less than $100,000. It’s an area where if industry comes alongside education, we can develop strategies to fix this problem.

Dugan: I think that is the key. We have education in the center and there’s other entities that say, “You do this, do it this way.” We’re missing out on an opportunity. Instead of saying, “We would like to come into your school,” we need to say, “We’re going to come into your school and we can provide you this, this and this. Those students who graduate with our curriculum or under our program will have the skills to get a career.” A lot of students who are in high school are like, ‘OK, I want to go get more training, education,’ whatever you want to call it, but they just don’t know what career they want to pursue. 

“We’re missing out on an opportunity. Instead of saying, we would like to come into your school, we need to say we’re going to come into your school and we can provide you this, this and this. Those students that graduate with our curriculum or under our program will have the skills to get a career…”

Goertzen: The career angle is critical. We’ve got to stop talking about this as a job and really as a career path. If your message is come work for AAR and you’re going to turn wrenches for 35 years, that’s not as exciting as come to AAR, work for 3-5 years and get heavy jet experience and then become a manager and then become one of our strategic leaders. That’s a completely different message. 

Dugan: That is key when you have someone come in you say, if you could give me 5 years, it’ll be great. That’s all I’m asking. Just 5 years. Because at 3-5 years you have them trained the way you want them trained. They feel like they’re invested. If you can get an employee to stay on 18 months, you’ve got a shot.

Goertzen: You look at a combine or you look at a tractor today and you look at a cockpit of an airplane. There’s a lot of similarities in those two pieces of equipment, even though obviously they’re vastly different. When you start to look at where we lose technicians on the aviation side — to your point — we lose technicians to Walt Disney World, to power distribution companies, wind energy companies, nuclear energy, heavy machining and you guys (ag equipment dealers). There’s no doubt that aviation maintenance technicians work in the ag industry. An aviation maintenance technician is skilled with electrical knowledge, hydraulic knowledge, pneumatic knowledge, sheet metal, composite. That’s all an ag machine, right?

Yes we have unique businesses, but we all are suffering from the same challenge around the perception of working with your hands or this question of whether this is a viable career. As we start to move and change the narrative around what does it mean to be a technician and the fact that it’s a career choice, not a job. I see high school counselors and superintendents already shifting away from the notion that you have to get a 4 year degree to be successful. I think what you’ll find, and I know what we found at AAR, is we’ve had open arms, coming into educational institutions where we want to spend our dollars helping them succeed to create a product that we, the industry needs. That’s the message.

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