Caterpillar Workforce DevelopmentBy Mike Schmidt, AEM Industry Advisor Editor

Finding ways to reach and attract the workforce of the future is no small task, even for a successful and well-known company like Caterpillar.

However, a new partnership between the machinery manufacturer and the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) aims to bolster Caterpillar’s efforts to develop a workforce pipeline capable of providing the company with talented employees and provide employment opportunities that benefit local communities.

“What Caterpillar has found in working with ASCA and engaging in countless conversations with educators and guidance counselors, is it is not that students don’t want the skilled labor jobs; they just aren’t aware that these types of roles exist and the opportunity that comes with them,” said Tiffany Curry, a North America dealer human resource consultant for Caterpillar’s Americas & Europe Distribution Services Division. “And for us, this a better problem to innovatively address versus being asked to change the hearts and minds of students who know about these roles, but don’t want them.”

Localizing Workforce Development

Caterpillar’s partnership with ASCA originated in 2017 as a way for company leaders to actively seek more effective and localized means of interfacing with educators and parents about workforce development activities. Since then, company recruiters and 12 of the independent Caterpillar dealers from across the U.S. have attended the ASCA Conference to meet educators and advocate for skilled trades careers.

The ASCA Conference brings in more than 3,500 counselors, educators and teachers from across the country. Attending gave Caterpillar representatives a unique forum to hear exactly what the attendees’ challenges were and to brainstorm programs, initiatives and other ways to positively impact workforce development.

“A well-developed skilled trades strategy in the school systems will benefit businesses in our communities, but more importantly, it will give students who are not college bound the skills needed to provide a substantial life for themselves, their families and their futures,” said Kristi Whittecar, general manager of human resources at Cashman Equipment Company, the Cat dealer for Nevada. “In this industry, the earning potential for skilled trades exceeds the earning potential of many careers that are developed due to formal education.”

Getting Results From Workforce Development Activities

The team recognizes it will take time to source an appropriate amount of relevant data from developing relationships with educators as a result of the ASCA partnership. Eventually, however, they look forward to finding the best and most useful means of sourcing workforce talent.

“We don’t just want to know we’ve had X-Y-Z hires over the course of a year,” said Curry. “We want to know where they came from and, more importantly, did they stay once they got here?”

Ultimately, the most significant benefit of Caterpillar employees and dealer representatives engaging in dialogues with counselors, teachers and other educators has been the company’s ability to leverage those relationships with key stakeholders and develop impactful workforce development strategies.

Lessons Learned

A number of important lessons have been learned as a result of Caterpillar’s partnership with the ASCA. First and foremost is the importance of starting small and making efforts scalable. Caterpillar remains firmly focused on starting small with people who are willing to move fast and work in concert with company officials.

“It’s difficult sometimes, when you start with a big program, because there’s a lot you don’t know,” Curry said. “For us, it’s about taking action, but we take it small and build on success.”

Workforce development is among the key topics discussed at AEM's series of Thinking Forward events. For more information regarding upcoming AEM Thinking Forward events and locations, visit https://www.aem.org/think/.

To help proactively attract potential talent and bring awareness to the industry, AEM has developed a toolkit for manufacturers and industry partners to use in outreach to their local schools and communities recruiting the next generation of skilled workers. The toolkit can be accessed at http://www.aem.org/workforce-development-toolkit/.

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