The construction equipment industry currently faces a technical workforce crisis nationwide, and equipment dealers in Utah have responded accordingly. According to a recent study by the College of William & Mary commissioned by the AED Foundation, the shortage of qualified equipment technicians costs the industry an estimated $2.4 billion annually. Through partnerships with Salt Lake Community College, local area high schools and the new Diesel Pathways program established by the Governor’s Office for Economic Development, local industry leaders are addressing the issue head-on.

Equipment technicians employed at equipment dealerships are part of the backbone of what makes the business run. They prepare machines for the worksite, service them when they are down and provide customers with the certainty that no time is wasted. In this industry, machine down time is costly, and depending on the job, those costs could be felt by taxpayers down the road. Outstanding careers in this field with local employers are readily available in Utah and the educational opportunities are highly technological and hands-on. With more and more baby boomers retiring every day, chances for upward mobility are great and compensation is competitive.

Several equipment dealers who are members of Utah Associated Equipment Distributors, a local group of businesses, decided to put competition to the wayside to address this issue in January 2015 with the help of their national association, Associated Equipment Distributors (AED). The initial goal was to work with Salt Lake Community College’s Diesel Systems Technology Program to achieve AED accreditation. The rigorous accreditation process ensures that graduates of the program are fully prepared to enter the workforce as an entry-level equipment technician by implementing curriculum aligned with the standards of the equipment industry.

Jeffrey Scott, president of Scott Machinery/Intermountain Bobcat, is one of those AED members who has been hard at work on this initiative.

“[AED accreditation] means more- qualified, better-trained diesel technicians to service equipment in the field and better serve our customers, thus helping us to maintain our pledge as an AED dealer to provide quality service and customer satisfaction to our installed base,” Scott said.

Scott’s work has not been forged alone. Other Utah AED members such as Honnen Equipment, Wheeler Machinery, Komatsu Equipment Co., Century Equipment, Rasmussen Equipment, Kimball Equipment and others in the industry have played a vital role in providing the support required to make programs like this a success.

“Our companies have contributed parts, machines and training expertise to assist the school in their mission,” Scott said. “In addition, we have had our employees actively serve important roles on the program’s advisory board. Our vice president of product support, Steve Jackman, is on that board.”

The state of Utah and Salt Lake Community College have also committed to rebuilding the technical workforce of tomorrow. The college is now constructing the new Westpointe Career and Technical Education Center, expected to be finished by the end of 2017. This new facility, which boasts 120,000 square feet, is a result of $37 million in state funding. The Westpointe Center will be located at 2150 W. Dauntless Ave., near Salt Lake City International Airport. The location for the building was decided in large part because of the proximity to SLCC’s biggest industry partners.

The partnership between Utah AED equipment dealers and SLCC goes beyond building curriculum and improving resources. In many cases, dealers are offering to pay for students’ tuition and offer some sort of paid internships along the way — a model that has been extremely successful for not only recruitment, but also retention. By working together as an industry on non-competitive issues like the technician shortage, industry leaders will continue to make huge gains at overcoming some of the largest challenges facing equipment dealers across the nation today.

Furthermore, local industry is taking a proactive role in engaging K-12 students in the process as well, introducing kids at younger ages to the industry before their minds are made up about their futures. West Jordan High School’s diesel program is one example where these relationships continue to grow. The high school now offers concurrent enrollment with Salt Lake Community College to further prepare students for their future careers.

We have to engage with not only K-12 students, but also their parents, counselors and teachers. Many parents today believe that in order to obtain a rewarding career, attending a four-year university is a requirement. That is simply not the case, and we work every day to showcase these opportunities.

The next goal for Utah AED equipment dealers is to host a hog roast in late August as a career awareness day. They will highlight careers in the industry and showcase the family-friendly working environment to students, parents, educators, employees and their families.

Phil Riggs is the western regional manager for Associated Equipment Distributors, where he helps facilitate workforce development and government affairs initiatives with equipment dealers throughout the state of Utah.

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