July 2014

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52 | www.cedmag.com | Construction Equipment Distribution | July 2014 Best Practices Reputations in this business are built on one thing: getting the job done. When a machine goes down, dealers approach the problem with laser focus. However, when it comes to recruiting technicians, many dealers have hit a wall, and are unsure of how to solve the problem. "There is a huge shortage of technicians," said Bill Esterly, vice president of product support for The Victor L. Phillips Company (VLP). Over the years the company tried many different tactics – recruiting technicians from competitors, advertising, visiting high schools. But problems persisted. "Even when we did get people, they didn't have the skills we needed," said Esterly. "One of the problems is that schools are teaching students on equipment and engines donated 10-15 years ago." The Kansas City-based dealer with six locations in Kansas and Missouri was hardly alone in their frustration. Other Case dealers had voiced concerns through the Case Construction Equipment dealer advisory board. Case got the message and decided it was time for the manufacturer to provide support to help attract young technicians to Case dealerships. James Ruffalo, who heads up service development at Case was tasked with the job of launching a nationwide technician- training program. When Esterly learned that Case was looking to support a technical school, he thought of Washburn Institute of Technology (Washburn Tech), based in Topeka, Kan. The school had been renting Case machines for their heavy equipment operator program from The Victor L. Phillips Company and had a diesel technology program geared toward the trucking industry. What happened next is testimony to a manufacturer, dealer and technical school working hand-in-hand to get the job done. An initial meeting in March of 2013 blossomed into a full blown program in less than six months. Trade School Turn-Around Fortunately for Case and VLP, Clark Coco, dean of Washburn Institute of Technology is a man with marketing savvy and a vision for tech education. Since arriving at the school two years ago, he has made it his mission to enhance the school's image. "We wanted to build a flagship institution in the state of Kansas that our legislators could go and see how tech ed could be delivered at a very high level and how that would help with the economic turnaround of the state of Kansas, he said." It started with a clean-up of the school's neglected grounds and a commitment to change the perception of the school. According to Coco, the staff bought into a simple but powerful idea that hangs on a banner at the school: We celebrate the dignity of work. Washburn Tech's strategies appear to be working. In 2013 the school had a 26.3 percent increase in enrollment (the largest of any school in the state on a percentage basis) as well as the highest graduation rate of any institution in the state. It offers more than 30 technical programs in five divisions – Construction, Health Care, Transportation, Human Services and Technology. Ruffalo witnessed the transformation of the campus from its dark and dingy past. "Washburn is doing a phenomenal job," he said. "The campus looks completely different." Despite state funding that has been basically stagnant for The Power Of Being Wanted Building a heavy-duty diesel program in a few months took some doing, but with a dealer, manu- facturer and tech educa- tors working together, it became a reality in Topeka, Kan. And by recruiting students the way colleges recruit athletes, this 'tech- savvy' program is stirring huge interest. BY JOANNE COSTIN Washburn Tech students in Topeka, Kan. work on the latest equipment donated by Case Construction Equipment.

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