There is a massive demand for trained heavy equipment technicians in today’s industrial world. Fabick Caterpillar and Rend Lake College have joined forces to fill this growing need for Fabick and other dealerships with an exciting new two-year program.
College administrators hope to have the Heavy Equipment Technician program, a two-year curriculum which will result in an Associate in Applied Science Degree, up and running by this fall semester. RLC already has a Heavy Equipment Technology program, but this new offering will be somewhat different, featuring a curriculum tailored to meet the needs of Fabick and Caterpillar.
Students also will obtain the skill sets needed by the industry’s other major dealers, including John Deere, Komatsu and others.
“It is a partnership, but both Rend Lake College and Fabick are committed to providing training for technicians for all brands of equipment, not just Caterpillar,” said Jim Hull, RLC’s Vice President of Instruction. Exposure to more brands and types of equipment will result in better technicians.
Fabick, headquartered in Fenton, Mo., has been a Caterpillar dealership since 1925 and employs more than 600 at 12 locations throughout its 99-county Caterpillar territory.
“This program teaches students how to service heavy equipment, such as the Caterpillar, using cutting edge diagnostic and maintenance systems, advanced technologies and high-tech tools,” said Dr. Sarah Ochs-Bond, RLC’s Applied Science and Technology Division Chair.
Students will learn how to work on many types of Caterpillar machines and equipment, such as agricultural, construction and earthmoving equipment. Classes will focus on engine fundamentals, machine hydraulics, fuel systems, machine electrical systems, transmissions and torque converters, undercarriage / final drives and more.
The program gives students the opportunity to develop electrical knowledge and skills they need to repair and maintain heavy equipment, diesel engines and drive train systems; critical thinking skills used in troubleshooting; and oral and written communication skills needed in the diesel mechanics field.
In addition to classroom and laboratory work, there will be a heavy emphasis on internships. There will be at least two internship opportunities for students in the program to work at a dealership, whether it is a Fabick dealer or another brand. Hull said this will help both the students and the dealerships determine if they are a good working match for possible future employment.
Students in Rend Lake College’s program will have the advantage of working in the new 22,300-square-feet Applied Science Center. The building features multiple bays and plenty of working area, as well as a five-ton hoist for moving heavy equipment and a service pit which will allow students to work underneath equipment.
Part of the partnership includes in-kind matches from Caterpillar, which could include equipment, components, or up to full machines on which the students can work. Caterpillar North America also is involved, having provided a $50,000 grant for the purchase of educational materials which, ironically, are not Caterpillar-related.
“Caterpillar encourages us to buy engines and components from their competitors, with the idea being exposure of the student to various brands of equipment,” said Hull.
The Heavy Equipment Technician curriculum will serve as a regional program for RLC. Officials already are recruiting students from the Metro-East area, Southeast Missouri and Southern Indiana, among others, as well as here in the district. Informal polls indicate many current students in RLC’s existing Heavy Equipment Technology program would be interested in the Fabick Caterpillar degree program, and two local high schools have expressed interest in establishing dual-credit classes in conjunction with the program.
Hull said another driving force is the recent resurgence of the coal mining industry. With two new mines going in at Franklin County at present, and more coming to Southern Illinois, technicians will be needed to repair and maintain the various types of heavy equipment used in mining.
“For Southern Illinois with a two-year degree, that’s a fine salary,” said Hull.
The word “technician” also is very appropriate with this program. “While we often think of a program like this as mainly working with wrenches and sockets, that’s not necessarily the case anymore. With the equipment these students will be training to work on, just as much of the work they will do involves a laptop and a wireless connection,” said Hull. Like today’s automobiles, most heavy equipment includes on-board computers which monitor the machines’ systems. The technicians will use computers to diagnose problems, then repair them.
“One of the first things a technician does these days when a machine is down is plug a laptop computer in and go from there. It truly is a ‘technician’ position now, where it used to be a ‘mechanic’ position,” said Hull. Students in the program must have knowledge of electricity and computers.
Tuition for the program is $65 per credit hour, which is the same tuition rate for all credit classes at Rend Lake College. There will be lab fees associated with the program, but these have not yet been determined.
Completion of the program does not guarantee employment with Fabick specifically, but Fabick officials will come to the college, observe the students and recruit the best. Completion of the program opens up a new world of opportunities for graduates in the Heavy Equipment industry in Southern Illinois, throughout the country and around the world.
Caterpillar dealers offer rewarding careers for service technicians responsible for machine diagnosis and repair. Career fields include heavy equipment, on-highway truck, marine and commercial engine markets.