When Ann Pollert watched members of the inaugural class for the Komatsu Diesel Technician Program at North Dakota State College of Science (NDSCS) walk across the stage to receive their diplomas, it was the culmination of 10 years of planning and an important step in helping the heavy equipment industry address its shrinking workforce.
“This was a goal of ours for a while,” said Pollert, who is the Technician and Career Developer at General Equipment & Supplies, Inc., a Komatsu distributor in North Dakota. “We are helping develop successful service technicians and giving them the tools to move up and become valuable employees.”
The joint effort among Komatsu America, NDSCS and several Komatsu distributors trains and develops new diesel service technicians. It includes a seven-month diesel technology introductory course at NDSCS, then students begin a Komatsu-specific program that rotates eight-week classroom sessions with eight-week paid internships through their local Komatsu distributor. The classroom/internship structure helps students gain a complete understanding of Komatsu machines and become accustomed to the culture of the distributors where they intern.
Through the program, distributors guarantee students a job upon graduation and offer a tuition-reimbursement incentive based on grade-point average, which could pay up to 100 percent of a student’s tuition and fees.
“This is an amazing opportunity,” shared Pete Anderson, Director of Safety and Technician Development for Road Machinery & Supplies Co. (RMS), a Komatsu distributor with locations in Iowa, Minnesota and Michigan. “Our students graduated on a Friday and started work in the shop the following Monday. In addition to securing a job that pays $50,000 a year, they accumulate little to no debt. It’s a huge advantage compared to a peer who racked up $100,000 in loans and took a job in a field outside of his or her major.”
From students to employees
While the excitement for the program is to be expected from the distributors, it is met with similar enthusiasm from the student participants. Just two years before they were eating cake at their diesel-program graduation celebration, General Equipment’s Nathan Dokkebakken, Alex Lass and RMS’ Theron Miller were high school seniors trying to decide their next steps in life. After listening to the recruiting pitch for the Komatsu program at NDSCS, they were sold.
“For me, the job security was the biggest reason I chose to sign up,” said Dokkebakken. “Diesel is constantly evolving, so there is always something to fix.”
“Knowing that I had a job waiting for me when I graduated was really important,” shared Lass. “It was great to apply what I learned in class when I was at an internship site. Everything I learned will eventually be applied in this job.”
The trio also touted the hands-on experience as a valuable learning tool, and they said it also helped make the transition from student to employee much smoother.
“The internships helped a lot,” said Dokkebakken. “The people at General Equipment welcomed us right away. They really helped us fit in.”
“Every time I came back for my internship it felt like I was becoming more a part of the RMS staff,” recalled Miller. “It was scary at first, but by graduation it was normal. There was no learning curve when I started as an employee.”