Hutson Inc., a John Deere dealership with 30 locations in Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee, is setting up a talent pipeline to help overcome an industry-wide shortage of service technicians.

The dealership’s pipeline introduces high school juniors and seniors to service tech work, provides employment throughout their college careers and then places graduates directly into a full-time position with Hutson.

Dustin Adams, director of human resources for 12 of Hutson’s stores, says this strategy captures potential talent early, which is critical in today’s competitive market.

“We’ve got to get out in the schools and advertise the benefits of this role and the amount of money that kids can make,” Adams says. “It’s a full-on press for experienced technicians and ag tech students.”

Pipeline Starts with High Schoolers

Adams oversees recruitment, training and development for the dealership’s Hutson South territory, made up of 4 Indiana stores, 7 Kentucky stores and 1 Tennessee store. These 12 locations employ about 118 service technicians, about 10 fewer than Adams’ target of 127 technicians.

To fill those remaining 10 tech positions and account for future vacancies, Adams is leaning on the talent pipeline. His goal is to set up each store with three new prospective ag techs annually: One high school senior, one student who’s in their first year of a technician program and one student in their second and final year of the program. 

“Every year, each location would then have one student graduating who could roll into our full-time technician pool,” Adams says. 

Hutson starts by hiring the prospective tech as a junior or senior in high school for part-time work at the dealership. It gives the student and dealership staff an opportunity to get to know each other. A supervisor can assess the student’s work ethic and ability to pick up technical knowledge, and the student also gets a chance to decide if service tech is a career path they want to pursue.

“It’s a very skilled position in terms of what they need to know in order to be successful and to be beneficial to the team as well,” Adams says.

At this point in their careers with Hutson, the high schoolers are limited in the jobs that they can do in the shop because of their age. They can’t operate power tools, for example, due to labor laws about youth employment. Instead, the students are lending an extra set of hands to the dealership’s techs by helping with tasks like lifting and cleaning, while also getting exposure to the daily responsibilities of a service tech. 

“An average technician will generate enough in revenue yearly. If we’ve paid them back $10,000 (for tuition), we’ve still made money…”

Adams estimates 10-20% of Hutson’s part-time student workers decide they don’t want to pursue a service technician career before they start college. Sometimes that’s because of the assignments they receive as a part-time employee, but Adams believes it’s better to find out that it’s not going to work early on, rather than lose someone who’s received more training and time investments from the dealership.

“This is our chance to figure out is this somebody who, when they’re a tech, is going to complain about having to clean up, or are they going to do it?” Adams says. “We’re looking for the attitude, work ethic and capacity to learn at that point.”

Molding Students into Techs

Once the student starts college, Hutson continues to guide them as they progress through their diesel technician program. John Deere TECH, the manufacturer’s advanced technician training curriculum, requires a Deere dealership to sponsor students going into the TECH program. By working with the student prior to their sponsorship, Hutson has an idea of whether the student will be a good fit for the shop before putting them on track for full-time employment. 

Most of the ag tech students working at Hutson attend Vincennes University in southern Indiana, but some are enrolled at colleges in Illinois, Arkansas and Mississippi. Deere partners with 24 schools across the U.S. and Canada for advanced technician training programs in ag, construction and forestry. 

The programs are set up for 8 weeks in the classroom, followed by a 12-week break. Hutson has its college students work full-time hours during the 12-week break, putting their new knowledge to work in the shop. 

“We know what they’re learning during those 8 weeks,” Adams says. “The hope is that when they come back to the store, they’re getting time to do real jobs that are a part of what they were just learning.”

If the sponsored student graduates with a 3.0 or higher GPA, Hutson reimburses 100% of their tuition. Even if the tech leaves after 1 year, it’s still a good value for the dealership, he says.

“An average technician will generate enough in revenue throughout the course of the year for that store,” Adams says. “If we’ve paid them back $10,000, we’ve still made money, and it’s benefited us.”

Adams encourages Deere and other OEMs to advertise their advanced training programs at the high-school level. Hutson South’s 12 stores are within an hour of almost 90 high schools, making it impossible for Adams and other Hutson ambassadors to visit every one.

“We’re limited on the resources we have to go out and recruit at some of these schools,” Adams says. “We try to focus on the more rural schools where we know kids live on farms and have some agriculture knowledge. Kids at schools in bigger cities in our market also may be interested in diesel and automotive, but they haven’t thought about agriculture roles.”

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