By Tim Kalinowski, Staff Writer
The agricultural machinery business has been facing a shortfall in trained farm equipment repair technicians for some time now. Since the late 1990s, recognizing this critical need, the Western Equipment Dealers Association (WEDA) has been trying to come up new and creative ways to reach out to young people and encourage them to enter the industry.
“It was one of those things, for a variety of reasons, that was increasingly challenging for our dealer to find people who wanted to fix and repair farm equipment,” remembers John Schmeiser, CEO of WEDA. “We decided we were going to do a number of different things to help our dealers find, recruit, train and keep mechanics. We have provided funding to colleges for spaces for ag. mechanics, we have done promotional material and had a presence at career and farm shows.”
Schmeiser says it did not take long to recognize there was a hole in their initial recruitment efforts.
“One of the things we noticed is we had really targeted a lot of our public relations efforts and initiatives to those in high school or outside of high school. The “Grandpa’s Farm Colouring Book” was viewed as a way that we can perhaps plant the seed with children ages 3, 4 and up about the valuable role a farm equipment mechanic or technician plays in keeping a farmer’s equipment operational.”
Since it earliest incarnation demand for the free colouring book has gone through the roof among their dealer-members, says Schmeiser, and shows no sign of slowing down.
“When I think back, and we first pitched this idea to our board of directors, we printed 5,000 of these colouring books and hoped there would be demand from our dealers to take them. Our dealers tell us when they put these things on the parts counter they fly off the shelf. Now we have printed and distributed over 90,000 of these. It has completely exceeded our expectations.”
And just as colouring book demand has exceeded expectations so to has WEDA’s other efforts to recruit young ag. equipment technicians.
“It’s still an issue, but we have seen some progress. As an example; when we started this initiative, the program offered by Sask. Polytechnic in Saskatoon was down to 12 spaces and since the late 1990s they have doubled the amount of spaces and we are close to 30 students now in that program. Now I don’t mean to suggest that is a direct consequence of sending out these colouring books,” jokes Schmeiser. “We have to use a shotgun approach.”
Schmeiser says a big key to successful recruitment, training and retention of a new generation of farm mechanics is changing traditional perceptions.
“We have high tech equipment now. In a lot of cases computers are needed for diagnostic purposes and our industry has really adopted GPS and precision farming equipment. We have really transformed from a mechanic who was perhaps a guy who pulled wrenches or was viewed as a grease monkey type of individual, into a sophisticated technician who completely understands high tech, sophisticated farm equipment, such as GPS technology, the customers are demanding from us. And related to that new high tech training, salaries have substantially increased to account for the additional training and sophistication that is needed in people to repair this equipment.”
New mechanic numbers have been rising steadily over the last several years, says Schmeiser; something that can only be seen as win-win for everyone involved in the equipment dealership industry.
“For us as an industry that is an incredibly positive sign,” confirms Schmeiser. “We do not see the advancement of technology slowing down. Our customers are demanding increased technology. The manufacturers are providing it. We are in the middle in the sales and service of that. As we look toward the future it is a pretty exciting time for repair of farm equipment and ag. technology as a challenging and rewarding career.”
To order copies of the latest “Grandpa’s Farm Colouring Book” those interested can call Jennine Iverson at 1-800-661-2452 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The books are free of charge except for mailing and handling charges. Donations are also gratefully accepted for the Canadian Equipment Dealers Foundation to support its ongoing educational initiatives.