A key step to tackling the technician shortage starts with convincing high school kids that their post-secondary education does not need to be at a 4-year institution for them to be successful and make good money.  

Richard Dugan, service recruiter for KanEquip and former teacher, focuses his recruitment efforts on junior high to high school students who are starting to be asked what they are going to do after graduating high school. 

He stresses that a 4-year college isn’t necessary for success and instead they can get an associate degree, which KanEquip will help them pay for, and  after graduation they can start full time with little to no debt. 

“It’s almost like show and tell. We go to the classroom and say, ‘Hey, this is what we do. This is our business.’ We make it age appropriate, we don’t get into a lot of the training or terminology. And then in the spring of the year, we bring out a tractor, and we describe what the tractor does, they get to ask us questions, they can get up and sit in it,” he explains.

The 14-store New Holland and Case IH dealership recently changed how it handles helping students pay for school. Previously, KanEquip would sponsor students, putting money toward their tuition and in return ask them to work for the dealership for 3 years. However, Dugan says they were finding that they would offer to cover the next semesters tuition to interns, who said they didn’t want to agree to working for the dealership for 3 years because “what if something good comes up in 6 months.”

Changing Their Approach

Dugan says that attitude speaks to the current workforce situation across industries. “Someone told me that for every unemployed person, there are 4 job openings available,” he says. “And I said, ‘How many opening are there for me?’ Because I’m employed, and they said ‘You’d probably double that.’ There are probably 8 jobs out there that would offer me a full-time position with them. I’d just have to hand them my resume and say, ‘Are you guys hiring?’

“What we’re seeing out there is young people don’t want to be tied down to a 3-year commitment. And then, current workforce people are saying, “Hey, I can go test the waters because I know if I leave KanEquip and I don’t like it somewhere else, I can probably come back.”

Because of that reluctance to commit for 3 years, KanEquip has changed its approach, an idea Dugan got from the trucking industry. “What we do now is we have the students put more skin into the game,” Dugan says. 

Students buy their tools and show KanEquip a receipt of purchase and then the dealership reimburses them. For tuition, the student is responsible for paying, whether that is through loans or paying it themselves. Once the student starts working for KanEquip, they start to be reimbursed for the tuition.

“We don’t pay off any student loans. We just pay it directly to the students. It’s kind of like a sign-on bonus. We’re not a student loan company,” Dugan says. “We had a couple of situations where the student walked across the stage and the next Monday they gave us a check back and say, ‘Hey, I’m not coming back to work for you.’”

“We don’t pay off any student loans. We just pay it directly to the students … like a sign-on bonus … We’re not a student loan company…” – Richard Dugan, service recruiter, KanEquip

The dealership views the tuition reimbursement as an employment benefit, similar to health insurance or a 401k. “After 90 days, me, the store manager and the service manager are going to sit down with that new graduate and say, ‘You’ve really proven yourself through your internships, your schooling and these first 90 days at work, and we want to reimburse you for your tuition. We want to help you get started in this career,’” Dugan says. 

Dugan asks any students they are sponsoring to send him a copy of their tuition bill, and he keeps it in their file. Then he’ll add up the total tuition and divide it by 36 and will start reimbursing them on a monthly basis over 3 years. 

KanEquip Immersion Day

In November 2021, KanEquip hosted its first dealer immersion day at its Great Bend, Kan, location. The idea first came up in 2018 from an intern at the Kansas Department of Agriculture, but between coordinating schedules with schools and then COVID-19 restrictions, it took a while to make it happen. 

“Once we were post restrictions or lockdowns, I said, ‘We’ve got to do it. We’re just going to do it. I don’t care if we fail at doing it, we’ve got to do it just see if it works at our place,’” Dugan says. 

On the day of the event, 9 kids showed up. The day started out with Dugan talking to them about KanEquip’s culture, the lines of equipment they offer, careers, training, compensation and benefits — what he calls his HR elevator pitch. After that, they divided into two groups. 

The first group met with sales team member and a precision ag representative, who shared what their typical day was like, the training they received and how they got started in the business.   

Read more about how KanEquip is tackling technician recruitment:

Next, they visited with the service and parts departments where they saw how to look up parts and how they sell and inventory parts. 

“We asked them to tell their story,  what do they like about the job? What are the challenges? Those types of things. That way the kids can make that decision. ‘OK, I like doing these things, I’m good at these things. I have these skills and talents. I could see myself in that person’s shoes,’” he explains.

If it could be coordinated, Dugan says he’d like to have 14 immersion days — one at each location. But between school and FFA schedules as well as the dealership’s own challenges of timing it, he’s happy to get even a few on the calendar. 

Dugan’s dream for his technician pipeline? That would be an apprenticeship program. “If I had all the power at KanEquip, I would wave my magic wand and for at least 3 of our locations, a technician who would be the apprentice technician,” he says. “We’ve hired him on full-time and he’d have 3 or 4 students who he’s going to work on equipment with and train them. Then after 4 years, they’ll have their apprenticeship, and they’ll be ready to go and do it on their own. 

“But going to a technical college, it’s a little quicker. We basically send them to that shop at the school and say, ‘Hey, train them and send them back in 2 years and we can get them going on a full-time job.’”

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