Students receive a certificate of completion and can apply the credits earned toward an associates of applied science degree in construction equipment technology or electric power generation and marine engine technology.
FABCO Equipment Inc., Caterpillar dealer for Wisconsin and Upper Michigan and Fox Valley Technical College (FVTC) established FABTECH Service Technician Education Center on the FVTC Spanbauer campus in Oshkosh, Wis., in 2006 and since then the education center has flourished.
FABCO has supported many Wisconsin technical college diesel programs since the 1980s. “In that period of time we saw the interest in diesel tech programs diminish and at the same time we saw the demand for skilled service technicians grow,” said Robert Bailey, manager of human resources and risk management, FABCO Equipment. FABCO saw the need to address the ever-growing shortage of technicians and so the program was born.
FABTECH offers two Caterpillar specific service technician career tracks that focus on developing Caterpillar construction equipment and electric power generation and marine engine service technicians.
Students receive a technical diploma and can apply the credits earned toward an associates of applied science degree in construction equipment technology or electric power generation and marine engine technology.
What FABCO learned through working with these partnerships and getting feedback through the years was that students wanted a program where they could get to work as soon as possible.
“What is very unique about the program is some students like to come in and graduate in a year and be able to go to work. Others want to get their associate degree and the FABTECH program allows for both directions for individuals to take a path either to a diploma program or an associate degree program,” said Bailey.
Recognized by McGraw-Hill Construction’s Engineering News Record (ENR) as a Top 25 Newsmaker for 2008, these are affordably priced, accredited programs that provide students with opportunities to be on-the-job and earning a good income at one of FABCO’s 20 locations within 12 months. In addition to substantial financial support, FABCO brings the capabilities of its entire organization as well as the assistance of its allied partners to this new technical college program.
“They were really recognizing us as introducing this great career that’s offered in the construction equipment industry to the next generation. Basically we went out and said, ’what does an entry level technician need to know to start a job’ and we built the curriculum around the answers to those questions by a number of our product support people. We developed a school that is exclusively used for the education of these technicians,” said Bailey.
The program gives students a combination of classroom and theory and then delves right into the lab or shop to put those theories to test. In addition, the company has partnered with Matco Tool Company, which provides tools for the students to use, up to 30 toolboxes. The school provides a laptop computer for the students to use, as well as uniforms, which include safety boots, safety glasses, and ear protection, just like they’d wear out on a real job.
“We are one of the few programs that we are aware of in the country that actually builds in professionalism as part of their grade. About 30 percent of their grade is for professionalism,” said Bailey. “Their attendance, how punctual they are, how they conduct themselves in the classroom and lab and with other fellow students or instructors. All of that is graded as part of their overall GPA. When our students actually get on to the shop floor for the first time, they are very prepared to be employees of an organization such as FABCO. They know it is important that they communicate well, if the customer asks questions, how to communicate to that customer,” he continued.
To help make the program a reality for students far from home, FABCO developed a partnership with the University of Wisconsin - Oshkosh. The university has a floor in one of the dormitories for FABTECH students, allowing them to be within three miles of FABTECH while also giving them a taste of traditional college life.
“Our general philosophy is that 80 percent of the population lives within 50 miles from where they were born. Most people gravitate to their hometowns. In the upper Midwest in a state like Wisconsin, that is very true. So, our students can graduate and potentially go back to a facility of ours near where they were born and raised; with 20 facilities sprinkled around the state, we can usually accommodate almost everyone,” said Bailey.
Students are trained by experienced FVTC instructors and have the opportunity to work on current model Caterpillar construction equipment, engines, generators and switchgear using the latest tools and advanced diagnostic technology. As time went on, “we did have opportunities as the program evolved to be able to hire some of our top techs. We have some of the finest, most knowledgeable technicians that we had at FABCO, now instructing the students and preparing them to be entry level techs, which gives a lot of credibility to the program,” said Bailey.
With nearly 20 locations throughout Wisconsin and upper Michigan, FABCO has developed a strong recruiting program to attract students to come to study at FABTECH in Oshkosh, Wis., which for some students could be hours from home.
“Social media has really changed the way we do recruiting from what we did in the past,” said Human Resources Supervisor Tara B. Thurs. “When we first started recruiting we were going out to all of the high schools doing presentations, but today where we are at using social media and Emarketing we have built relationships with counselors, tech ed teachers and we promote different opportunities or programs that we are offering.
“We are currently offering high schools the opportunity to come and tour FABTECH, which is much better than us going to the high school and putting on a presentation. With this, students can actually see it, feel it, touch it,” she continued. To attend the tour, which includes power point presentations, videos, program details, and a brief history of the company, FABCO donates $250 to the high school to help offset the travel. Thurs and fellow recruiter Ross Hellenbrand are able to visit around 20 high schools a year.
FABCO recruiters also make their way out to high school and military recruiting job fairs to promote the FABTECH program, to attract both high schoolers and veterans.
“We were just signed up for ’Hire Our Heros’, a national recruiting program. Also ’Returning Veterans’. When you look at the percentage of new hire technicians in this organization, they are largely coming from the FABTECH program, not necessarily from recruiting,” said Hellenbrand.
“We have raised the bar very high and we have also introduced professionalism on top of the education and we find that they can do it and they are very happy with themselves and proud of themselves,” said Bailey. “Confidence starts to build during the year. A momentum builds during the year. When they graduate, it is literally a transformation. It is really something to see from day one to graduation day.”