Cultivating Next-Generation Off-Road Equipment Experts

Universities, technical schools, and industry manufacturers are teaming up to train the equipment experts of tomorrow.

October 2011, Government Fleet - Feature

by Barbara Bonansinga

Students in the Oklahoma State University Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP) receive grader training as part of the curriculum.
Students in the Oklahoma State University Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP) receive grader training as part of the curriculum.

At a Glance

Some benefits of being an off-road equipment technician or operator include:

  • High demand that far exceeds supply.
  • Competitive salary immediately after graduation.
  • Ability to learn about technologies developing in the industry.
  • Opportunities for travel or relocation throughout the U.S. and worldwide

The most sophisticated, multi-tasking, technological off-road equipment available today and on the drawing board for tomorrow is of no use to the industries it serves without a strong foundation of skilled experts to understand, maintain, repair, and operate it. Off-road equipment is a key ingredient of building roads and transportation systems, supporting the agricultural industry, and for all types of construction and mining work. Training and developing that crucial network of experts is no small task at the rate technological change occurs today, but there are programs aimed to do just that.

Training Program Grows

In the early 1990s, Roy Achemire, division chair of the Heavy Equipment and Vehicle Institute at the Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology (OSUIT), was happy with a class count of 79 students in the school's diesel technician training program. Today, the same program hosts closer to 230 students per year, sees demand for more than 500, and without hesitation, Achemire said, "I can easily place that many successful graduates in jobs in this emerging field post-graduation."

Achemire spent about 15 years in the crude oil transport industry, working with trucks and pipelines, and had extensive experience in parts prior to advancing to the division chair position he now holds at OSUIT.

The school's focus is preparing students for the workforce. Achemire summarizes the school's mission statement as addressing an advancing technological focus, underscoring quality in all endeavors, and memorializing a commitment to multiculturalism, with a student body consisting of 25 percent Native Americans and 50 percent first-generation college students. OSUIT strives to provide an education that is well-rounded for its students.

OSUIT's primary strength is its partnerships with business, industry, and employers. Achemire said these partnerships provide significant resources for facilities, equipment, supplies, scholarships, and curriculum advisement. According to Achemire, "OSUIT's teaching approach is a project-based applied learning methodology."

He pointed to employer partnerships as having a significant influence and impact on student success. "Industry and advisors are vital in ensuring that the program curriculum is current and aligned with industry standards and expectations," he said. The Institute website states that the Heavy Equipment and Vehicle Institute is a national leader in curriculums of this type.

Recruiting Technicians

Employers are clamoring for skilled students with off-road skill sets in many industries. Providing a steady pool of motivated students with an aptitude for off-road maintenance and repair is a constant challenge. Currently, Achemire and his colleagues employ some of the same recruiting techniques used by schools wooing star athletes for sports programs.

Extensive community outreach efforts are one way programs such as OSUIT attract students. According to Achemire, the pool of potential candidates, including boys and girls from family farming backgrounds, is limited. Professional recruiters, companies, and schools all work with high schools and career counselors, targeting not only the obvious FFA (formerly Future Farmers of America) and agricultural program students, but also those focused on everything from computer science to music.

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