Liebherr“It’s really a fantastic opportunity. We learn something new every day.”

That’s how Advanced Technology Institute (ATI) student Logan Dyer described his time spent so far participating in the newly established heavy equipment program launched as a result of a new partnership between ATI and AEM member company Liebherr USA. Dyer, along with five other co-op students from ATI, were given the unique opportunity to work as part-time employees in the repair shops of the earthmoving and mobile crane divisions at the company’s Newport News, Virginia facility, thereby augmenting valuable lessons learned in the classroom with real-world experience.

“Liebherr’s commitment to create economic prosperity for individuals, its businesses and within the communities is the driver behind this co-op program,” said Ralf Vieten, general manager, customer service, mobile and crawler cranes division at Liebherr USA. “Shortage of technical, or any other, skills will act as a significant barrier for Liebherr to stay a leader within their technologies. Workers will need to be reskilled or upskilled, the workforce needs constant modules updates, and an apprentice program is providing a solid foundation for us to build on.”

Setting Students Up for Sustained Success

Professional development most often comes as a result of opportunity and experience, and ATI’s heavy vehicle management program helps its students refine and hone the skills they need to achieve sustained success and satisfaction as heavy equipment or diesel technicians. The program, which saw Dyer and his classmates join as its first participants this past January, offers diesel repair training in a shop environment where students can work on manual and automatic engines ranging from 400 to 12,000 lbs.

Liebherr is also sponsoring ATI’s hydraulics program, and the company has made one of its L 526 wheel loaders available for all students to eventually become Liebherr-certified upon completion of the program. Used extensively in construction, mining and waste management industries, among other applications, the L 526 is a very sophisticated machine with extensive electronic and computer-guided control systems, making it an ideal piece of equipment to use for educational purposes.

Finding the Right Fit

According to Vicki Wishon, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, human resources manager at Liebherr, after researching all of the local schools in the Newport News area and evaluating their relevant programs, ATI was eventually deemed the best candidate to engage with on an educational initiative.

“They were the most committed to a partnership, and they had the right classes to form the program,” said Wishon.

That partnership has quickly paid dividends for Liebherr, ATI and the program’s students. ATI benefits greatly from having a sponsor and corporate partner, as well as being able to leverage its ability to offer OEM training as a recruiting tool. In addition, the students benefit from exposure to multiple product lines during the co-op, they’re paid competitive wages, and they receive a significant sign-on bonus if hired by Liebherr as a full-time employee upon conclusion of the program.

Closing the Skills Gap at a Local Level

Attracting the workforce of tomorrow is a top priority for Liebherr for a number of reasons, most notably the company’s growth rate in the United States., multiple product divisions all being in need of an influx talent, an aging workforce, a competitive market, products continually becoming more complex with time, among others.

“The list goes on and on,” said Wishon.

The budding partnership between the company and ATI has served as a critical step in Liebherr’s efforts to help close the skills gap at a local level, Meanwhile, Liebherr works with local high schools and area technical programs to try and build a positive perception about the industry and the company as an employer. In addition, the company has made positive strides in increasing the company’s name recognition through sponsoring school programs and engaging in plans to partner with other schools across the U.S.

“By partnering with schools in our facility areas, it’ll allow us to build a pipeline for future employees, either by having them as co-op students transitioning to full time employees, or by being exposed to our products during their training and hopefully still taking the opportunity to come and work with the best,” said Wishon.

Developing the Workforce of Tomorrow

With the continued expansion of heavy equipment populations around the globe, the shortage of technicians available to service it becomes increasingly detrimental. Regardless of the difficulties experienced by dealers and manufacturers alike in securing qualified technicians, end-user customers expect their equipment to remain up and running.

“The options seem simple on the surface: buy talent on the open market to fill these roles or develop your own workforce,” said Michael Balella, general manager, product support, construction equipment division for Liebherr. “Yet, the first option is expensive, historically does not lend to loyalty, and results in low retention rates. Developing your own workforce by engaging employees just out of high school and supporting continued advancement throughout their careers cannot be matched.”

Ultimately, what Liebherr’s leadership has realized through its workforce development efforts thus far is this: Cultivating a partnership with a quality technical school – like ATI – and building a strong technical foundation in students to be further developed by providing product-specific training courses will reduce the time required to train qualified technicians.

“We must go even further today, however, by engaging with potential students and their parents directly to assist partner technical schools in increasing student interest in the industry and driving higher enrollment in training programs,” said Balella.

It All Comes Down to Effort

Advancements in technology are leading to what has become a continual evolution for the skilled trades in recent years. In order to continue to attract, train and eventually retain talented employees, organizations need to make a concerted effort to connect with students in their communities, inspire them to strongly consider a careers as skilled workers and – most importantly – develop them into qualified employees. It’s no small task, and it’s one that requires companies like Liebherr to develop and execute practical solutions for tackling the skills gap at a local level.

With that fact in mind, Wishon encouraged fellow manufacturers leaders who are considering similar programs or investigating other workforce-related activities involving local students to do whatever’s necessary to transform their well-conceived ideas and initiatives into reality.

“The cost of not doing it is too high, especially with an aging workforce and high competition for talent,” she said.

“Figure out what you can do, make it really attractive to your local partner or school, and make it really attractive to the students you’re trying to attract,” Wishon continued. “Work with the students, let them see career paths and growth potential within your company, keep them engaged and take good care of them, and hopefully you’ll have them as employees for a very long time.”

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