If he could find them, Dave McCarthy, Titan Machinery’s southwest regional manager, could easily hire as many as 40 experienced service technicians for the 16 stores he oversees. McCarthy has been with Titan for 13.5 years, and before that he worked for 2 Cat dealerships and Caterpillar, and he says in all that time no one has been able to “crack the code” to get technicians on demand.
He says if someone approached him and said they had 50 experienced techs, he’d take them all without even thinking about it. “I’d find a place for them. If you had good, experienced techs, I would guarantee you there isn’t a dealer here that would probably say to you, ‘Oh, I’m flush with techs, no thank you.’ Because the keyword there was experienced techs,” he says.
McCarthy says that simply having just anybody you can find in the shop doesn’t work in the long run, “We have tried that in the past and it has not worked well because of rework. So, the keyword is experienced techs. They are not out there floating around,” he says.
Because finding experience technicians is so difficult, McCarthy focuses a lot of time and effort on recruiting young technicians.
Focused on Grassroots Recruitment Efforts
While his primary role for Titan isn’t recruiter, McCarthy spends a fair amount of his time getting out to high schools and middle schools — and in some cases even grade schools — to talk to kids about careers in the trades, particular as an ag technician. A lot of his focus is spent trying to break the perception that a career as a service technician isn’t a “good” option.
“Mike Rowe, who hosts Dirty Jobs, slammed this poster from the mid ‘70s that said, ‘Work smart, not hard.’ And the work smart showed a guy with a college degree vs. the work hard guy who had on a hard hat and work boots. He had a frown on his face. He was covered in grease. The poster basically was saying, ‘You’re an idiot if you’re working hard with your hands. Use your brain.’ I want to do all I can to make sure that mentality does not permeate to parents, our counselors and our faculty at the schools.”
McCarthy goes out to schools across his region to preach that a 4-year degree isn’t the only option and isn’t the best option for everyone. “If you are inclined to go to a 4-year college, go. Absolutely go. But for the other 30% of you that are thinking, ‘I don’t want to go to the University of Nebraska Lincoln or University of Wisconsin-Madison and be around 30,000 kids and get swallowed alive in the system. I learn with my hands. I love taking things apart. I hate sitting in the classroom all day.’ I say to those kids, if you’re a gear head, if you enjoy thinking and working with your hands,, there are careers in diesel.”
He compares himself to a football coach. “I’m the guy that’s going to the high school looking for the next Heisman caliber technicians. And I know that I need to go. It’s like your great football coaches in college. They recruit; every year they’re out there beating the road. That’s what I’m doing,” McCarthy says. In fact, the next day he was driving 2.5 hours to Cairo, Neb., to visit Centura High School to talk to students in 5 class periods.
When he visits high schools, he says it is hit or miss if anyone in the class raises their hand when he asks how many are thinking about being a diesel tech. But, whether 5 hands are raised or no hands, he still has 50 minutes to talk to those kids about the opportunities at Central Community College in Hastings, Neb., and at Titan Machinery. McCarthy says people may say he’s wasting his time, but if even one student expresses interest, it’s been worth his time. When he visits high schools, he usually is with someone from the college. “That’s the one-two punch,” he says. The college talks about the curriculum of their diesel program and I talk about the career opportunities at Titan.
McCarthy isn’t just focused on talking to students though. He says talking to the parents is equally as important. “Remember, these are the same parents going, ‘John, what do you mean you don’t want to go to the University of Nebraska Lincoln and be a Cornhusker and get that engineering degree? You’re a smart kid. What the heck do you mean you want to go to Central Community College in Hastings, Neb., and get a two-year associate degree?’
“I talk to those parents and say, ‘Time out. Pump the brakes. Do you understand as a Titan sponsored technician, John’s going to potentially graduate debt free? And he is going to immediately have a career position waiting for him upon graduation, not a job, but a career opportunity.’ And I lay it out just like I do for the students But you’ve got to tell them this. Many of the parents don’t know about the excellent career potential that exits for diesel technicians. That’s why I talk to parents and students alike, some kids even as young as high school freshmen.”
Titan’s EDGE Program Gives High School Students Up-close Look at Service Tech Careers
- Eligibility: Applicants must be entering or currently enrolled in their junior or senior year of high school OR completing their GED. Individuals that have completed high school or their GED are ineligible and are encouraged to explore Titan’s sponsorship and internship programs.
- Locations and Time Frame: Titan EDGE students will work part-time at one of Titan Machinery’s dealerships for a minimum of 12 weeks. EDGE students will work a minimum of 4 hours per week and a maximum of 15 hours per week, based on the schedule set with the dealership service manager.
- Outcome: Titan EDGE students will identify career opportunities in an equipment dealership. They will also develop professional skills, learn to recognize their individual strengths, and clarify their educational goals.
- Application Deadline: Titan Machinery is continually seeking to connect students with these opportunities and accepts applications for the EDGE program throughout the year.
But, talking to them when they are only freshmen means you have to be playing the long game. You need to keep talking to them, he says, because they won’t be going to college for a few years. “It is a long game. And I do not know of any other way to consistently keep our pipeline full of candidates than doing it this way,” McCarthy says.
McCarthy adds that, personally, he finds value in personally going to the schools. He does not believe it is the sole responsibility of HR to secure techs; it must be a team effort.
McCarthy says he uses a 25-mile rule, which is simply taking a compass and drawing a circle to see how many high schools are within a 25-mile radius of any given location. He would like his service managers to get out of the shop and travel to the local schools to meet the principals, counselors and, most certainly, the shop teachers. “Ideally, they are on a first name basis with the shop teachers.
Ideally, McCarthy aims to hit about 10 schools each semester. That isn’t close to all the schools in the “25-mile rule,” but with other responsibilities it’s the most he can visit. From his recent visit to Centura High School, McCarthy says he thinks maybe 5 students were seriously interested in the tech program.
For students Titan sponsors, similar to other dealerships, they will pay for their tuition, books and about $9,000 for Snap-On tools. Plus, Titan offers them a paid internship as part of the sponsorship. Titan has students they are sponsoring sign a contract that for the 2 years of school and then for 2 years after graduating they must work for Titan. If at any point they decide to leave, they need to pay back any money Titan has invested in them.
As interns, not only are the students getting credit hours over the summer for the time spent at the dealership, McCarthy says they are also getting paid a good intern wage.
However, there are opportunities to get to know the student and their habits and start training them before college begins, McCarthy points out. “Let’s just say it’s November and college doesn’t start until the fall. What do you do? Well, you could leave them alone until they start school in the fall. What we prefer to do is ask ‘Can you quit your job at the local Wendy’s? We want you right now. Part-time student, whenever you can take off, come on out.’ We try out best to work around their school schedules. We even have a Titan Edge Program where we have paid job shadow opportunities.”
“This gives us a perfect opportunity to see how the potential tech performs in our shop environment. Do they show up on time? Does she have enthusiasm? Does she have the acumen to learn? We’ve had more than once where it was not the right fit. And we’ve had many times where our service managers were giving the candidate a huge thumbs up. Let’s not lose this tech!’ The student is getting almost 6 months of training before they even start college,” McCarthy says.
While they are in high school, McCarthy says depending on their age (and local labor laws) they may simply be helping clean up or hand tools to the technicians. “For an older junior or older senior, it behooves us to do everything we can to train them and get them up to speed. Whether it’s online training or mentoring, we’ll saddle them up with one of the experienced techs. Even if it’s just holding a flashlight for the senior tech, they’re soaking it up. These tech candidates are sharp.”
Once they are off to college, McCarthy says Titan works with them to find hours they can work in the shop when they aren’t in class. “A rule of thumb is they get their associates degree from Central Community College in Hastings. They get their master’s and PhD at Titan Machinery on the shop floor,” he says. “I’ll be honest, usually we don’t even think they start to hit full potential until the second year out of school. In other words, they’re rookies. They’re learning. They’re getting their master’s degree. They’re getting they’re on-the-job PhD.”Sounding the Alarm: Technician Shortage Hurts the Bottom Line Putting Technicians in the PipelineAGCO Partners with Universal Technical Institute for Fendt Ag Tech Training KanEquip Takes New Approach with Tuition Reimbursement for New TechsTitan Machinery Takes Grassroots Approach to Technician Recruitment State Apprenticeship Program Bolsters Birkey’s Recruitment Efforts