Kansas School Begins Recruiting Diesel Mechanics Like College Athletes

Tech School Signing Day

Recruiting diesel technology students hasn’t been a challenge for Washburn Institute of Technology, based in Topeka, Kansas.

“If I could get a bigger space, I could get 100 students,” said Clark Coco, Washburn. A former college basketball coach, Coco came up with the idea of using the college athlete recruitment model to recruit tech students. “We talk to as many students as possible and then rank them within the system to get the best 60 we can find. We sign them with a national letter of intent for technical education,” Coco says.

During the upcoming academic year he fully expects the school to have a waiting list. On Feb. 20, more than 431 students showed up for the first national signing day.

“The power of being wanted is an unbelievable recruiting tool,“ Coco says. “Students will make a much stronger commitment if they know if an institution has an investment in them and wants them.”

Coco says his team works hard at squashing the thought that going to a tech school is a poor second choice to college. Three recruiters work 16 local districts in Northeast Kansas to identify candidates. Washburn also changed the program name from Diesel Technology to Heavy Diesel Construction, feeling it was more marketable and descriptive.

The school worked with Case dealer Victor L. Phillips to get the diesel tech training in place last fall. “There’s a huge shortage of technicians,” said Bill Esterly, VLP vice president of product support. “One of the problems is that schools are teaching students on equipment and engines donated 10 to 15 years ago.”

To help alleviate that situation, Case Construction Equipment and VLP delivered more than $500,000 in equipment to the school.

Working with Washburn made Esterly realize where the industry had shortcomings. “We as dealers need to get out and see these kids and talk to counselors in ninth and 10th grade, and give them a better understanding of our industry,” he says. “Partnering with Washburn will help us do that.” Next year, VLP will offer $5,000 in tuition reimbursement if graduates work for the company.

To avoid losing potential candidates because of the upfront investment needed in tools, Washburn purchased $300,000 in tools from Snap-On. Four students are assigned to each toolbox. High school students entering the program can also save money because Kansas will pay the tuition for high school students in technical training programs. In addition, Washburn students also graduate with an OSHA card, as well as NC3 certifications in torque, diagnostics and metering.

Coco says Washburn offers a hands-on, high-tech, life-changing opportunity. “I say, ‘Pick a place where you want to live. You can get a diesel job. You can pick and choose if you are a good worker and drug free. Yes it’s dirty, sweaty and hot, but you are going to make a lot of money and love your work. Six figures if you are really good.’”

Editor’s note: A version of this story first appeared in the July issue of Construction Equipment Distribution, the magazine of the Associated Equipment Distributors. 

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