After a two-year application process, the AED Foundation has been authorized by the U.S. Department of Labor to create and manage department-approved apprenticeship programs in Associated Equipment Distributor dealerships.
The AED Foundation has been designated a "Standards Recognition Entity," which means the foundation has been certified to oversee development of apprenticeship programs that meet the department's standards.
"It allows our member companies to work with the foundation in setting up apprenticeship programs instead of working with the Department of Labor," said Brian P. McGuire, AED president and chief executive officer.
He noted that some companies had been reluctant to work with the Labor Department because it meant inviting an enforcement agency into the place of business. Members also found the amount of paperwork required by the department to be daunting.
"The standards for an apprenticeship program still will be high, but the process will be less burdensome and when questions or concerns arise, dealers can call the foundation instead of the Department of Labor," McGuire said. "Our hope is to make it a much easier process."
The foundation sought the certification after the Trump administration directed the department to look for ways third parties could develop apprenticeship opportunities. The department's response was creation of what it calls "Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs." In this case, the AED Foundation will officially recognize dealership programs that develop farm equipment mechanics and technicians, bus and truck mechanics, diesel engine specialists and mobile heavy-equipment mechanics.
The AED Foundation is one of the first industry associations to be certified. Other types of organizations eligible for the designation include unions, trade groups, non-profits and state and local governments.
The drive for more apprentices comes from the ongoing deficit of skilled workers in trades. Older-generation technicians and skilled labor are retiring and too few younger workers are succeeding them. McGuire said this new program is "not a silver bullet to fix the skilled labor shortage. But it is another tool in the toolbox. It creates another pathway for a young person to become a technician and gives dealers a more successful pathway to having the techs they need."
AED planners have forecast the need for 70,000 more technicians by 2024 but can only identify how to develop 10,000. McGuire was asked if this new program will help offset the expected shortfall.
"Time will tell, but here is my response: It can't hurt. Whatever new pathways we can create for folks to obtain the skills necessary to be, say, a diesel tech, the better off we'll be," McGuire said.
The AED Foundation has been accrediting two-year and four-year technical school programs for two decades. That experience plus the existence of 10 AED dealers with successful apprenticeship programs impressed Labor Department personnel.
"The certification is a compliment to the AED Foundation and its board of directors," McGuire said. "They had the foresight to apply and the fortitude to stick it out for two years."
The application process was shepherded by Jason Blake, AED Foundation's vice-president and chief operating officer, who calls the successful application "a team effort."
Blake said the pandemic will delay the roll out of the program until January or February. The delay is a matter of safety because setting up the dealerships "is a hands-on process" that will include in-person interviews of a dealer's human resources people and trainers, an onsite needs assessment, a determination if a dealership needs additional equipment to fulfill program standards and so on.
Eventually, the foundation will assign a director to oversee the program, according to McGuire. Until then, responsibility will be shared.
Besides actively increasing the number of skilled technicians, the AED Foundation is trying to develop more skilled managers. Its Vision 2024 campaign encourages heavy equipment dealer management to become certified through AED programs. McGuire said more skilled personnel are needed in the industry from top to bottom.
"We not only have a shortage of skilled technical workers, we have a shortage of folks to fill all the jobs in dealerships — parts managers, salespeople, other areas of management. We need to have people come into the industry and use our certification program to educate themselves." CEG