Travis McClure has discovered that not only does it benefit his company to partner with local colleges, but it benefits the colleges as well.

“They need industry coming in as bad as we need them,” he says. McClure is the education and recruiting specialist with Birkey’s Farm Store, a 17-store Case IH dealership in Illinois and Indiana. As part of his job, McClure works closely with Parkland College in Champaign, Ill.

“We have regular meetings – a minimum of twice a year,” he says. “My students are used to seeing me every single day or every other day when they’re in class.”

Until recently, McClure oversaw a scholarship program in which students received $4,000 toward tuition, along with necessary tools. However, thanks to a change made by the state of Illinois, the program has been converted to an internship called the Diesel Power Equipment Technician program. 

Under the new guidelines, Birkey’s is reimbursed up to $5,000 per semester for each student in the program — and if the student drops out, Birkey’s still receives the money spent on that person’s education.

“It’s been a great thing,” McClure says. “The state requires us to do certain things and they require the school to do certain things, so it holds everybody accountable. The student knows the education they’re getting, we know what the school has to provide for us, and the school knows what the state expects.

“It’s worked out very well.”

But where does McClure find students who might be interested in participating in this program?

“The best avenue I have found is the agriculture teachers – the FFA teachers,” he says. “They know what every kid wants to do and they care about their careers, and what [those kids] are going to do after college.”

McClure also partners with vocational schools in his area. He’s cultivated relationships with those schools that includes annual field trips to a Birkey’s location, where McClure has a graduate from his program speak directly to the vocational students.

“They can hear from a technician that graduated 3 years ago who’s making $70,000 a year now,” he says. “He’s making a successful living and has no debt, because our students typically have no debt.”

McClure contends that there are plenty of students out there who would be interested in a program such as this one, but it can be difficult to get them into the dealership.

“Finding these students is not hard,” he says. “They’re out there. It’s just a matter of finding them and convincing them [to give this program a try]. Every guidance counselor tells [students] they have to have a 4-year degree to be successful. You do not have to have a 4-year degree to be successful.

“You show up to work on time. You have a good attitude and do your job.”

One thing that’s important, McClure says, is that his program isn’t portrayed to students as being the same as going to college.

“It’s full-time shop class,” he says. “They’ve been convinced they have to have a 4-year degree. Once they figure out [that’s not necessary], they’re fine. We get them in to see what goes on.”