It’s a fact that every piece of equipment on the farm, no matter what its color, will break down. The key to success for farmers is access to trained technicians and service support to get those machines back into the field quickly. John Deere has long had a history of investing in training service technicians, called the John Deere Tech Program. The company has announced it will build on that history in 2019 and beyond.
John Deere recently received approval from the U.S. Department of Labor for its new Registered Apprenticeship Program, which will be made available to Agriculture & Turf, and Construction & Forestry dealers. “We have an ongoing program that is never going to go away,” says Grant Suhre, director, Region 4 customer and product support, John Deere Ag & Turf.
That problem is the lack of enough trained service technicians needed to support equipment in the field. The John Deere Tech Program was established in 1989 and now sponsors training programs at 24 colleges throughout the U.S. and Canada. In that program, instructors must complete an extensive John Deere technician training program. Students in the program have the opportunity to work with the latest equipment and technology.
Suhre explains that technicians who have come through the program have gone on to serve dealerships well. “From an on-average perspective, this is the best staff we have in the field,” he says. “These are the folks that, when a combine goes down during harvest, they can get you back in the field before the thunderstorm hits.”
And while the tech program is extensive, company leaders saw an opportunity to build on the idea, and the Registered Apprenticeship program was born. “In addition to on-the-job training experience, an apprentice will receive technical instruction and be assigned a personal mentor as a part of the highly organized training structure,” Suhre says.
With this new program, dealers can opt to work with a local community or technical college and augment that program. The apprentice would train at the school, but also work at the dealership and access Deere training materials. “The dealer channel has in excess of 10,000 technicians,” Suhre observes. “The tech program delivers part of the staffing; but to maintain and grow in service departments, we’ll not rely just on tech grads.”
That’s where this new program comes in. The on-the-job program can help recruit staff, and the training program helps bring them up to speed on all the tools and tech that need supporting in the field.
Suhre notes that in other countries, including Canada, Australia and New Zealand, there are apprenticeship programs at work. Those are four-year programs with the apprenticeship path built in. “This new program is a bit of a reflection of those,” Suhre says.
A look at the program
This new program can take longer to complete than the tech program, but Suhre explains that the work-study program will use John Deere University content as the background for the formal education requirement. And those who complete this program will get a government-recognized qualification in a skilled trade.
Dealers who want to participate can receive support and technical assistance from John Deere and Jobs for the Future — a U.S. DOL intermediary that can expedite the registration process with the dealer’s state or federal apprenticeship agency.
After registering, dealers can enter employees into the Agriculture and Equipment Technician or Heavy Construction Equipment Mechanic programs. And they can select other occupations for the apprentice program, including sales professionals, parts professionals, accountants or other occupations, and develop appropriate work processes for those jobs.
Dealers will also identify master-level employees who are capable of mentoring apprentices and willing to do this. Then, dealers will identify potential candidates or current employees who would benefit from the Registered Apprenticeship Program.
The company has created guideline standards for the Registered Apprenticeship Program. These have been shared with dealers, and there is Deere technical assistance to dealers interested in participating. The aim is to assure a consistent approach that any dealer can implement, Suhre says.
More than diesel tech
One lament you’ll hear from farmers engaging in new technology is lack of support in the field. This new program from Deere is aimed at helping solve that problem, too, since technicians these days need to understand the whole machine. “The expectation is to understand the whole system — and with today’s level of automation, that’s a key point,” Suhre says. “Recognizing that agriculture and agricultural equipment are more and more complex, we have to understand how it all works together. You can’t just know how to work on a diesel anymore, or fix a bearing in an axle. You have to understand why AutoTrac isn’t working, and how to diagnose problems. It’s all about uptime.”