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Road Warriors: Transportation

Spring 2012

Road Warriors

Diesel service techs and truck drivers are in demand.

The J. J. Keller Transportation Center at Fox Valley Technical College will soon have to double capacity to keep up with the needs of Wisconsin businesses. “We have at least three job offers for every diesel tech student,” states Dan Poeschel, associate dean of the Transportation Division. “And there is a continuing demand for qualified truck drivers.”

Steve Farwell, a general manager of Quality Truck Care Centers and an FVTC advisory board member for 17 years, reports that the industry is facing a huge dilemma and needs highly qualified professionals. “Approximately 40 to 50 percent of our workforce will be retiring between 2010 and 2030,” he says. “There will be a huge need for technicians and we need to do something about it now.”

Zach Tratz, a recent FVTC graduate of the Diesel Equipment Mechanic program, is a technician working with Farwell at the Appleton Quality Truck Care Center. He came to FVTC’s program after studying physical and environmental geography for two years. “I realized that I wanted to do something hands-on and learn a trade,” he says. “The minute I got here and took a tour, I knew this was what I wanted to do.”

Diesel technician students at FVTC attend school for six hours a day, typically spending one hour in lecture and the rest working hands-on in the lab. “You do get homework, but mostly you’re working to solve real problems,” Tratz says.

Tratz sees his technician job as a gateway to getting into management. “I’ll know the business from the ground level up,” he says. “My hands-on knowledge will ultimately make me a better manager.”

Farwell has hired many FVTC graduates over the years. “The technicians we’ve hired from Fox Valley Tech have grown with our organization and are now foremen, service managers, and sales people,” he says. “Students need to understand that technical positions now pay as much, and often more, than many jobs which require a four-year college degree.”

FVTC’s transportation programs offer outstanding career opportunities for men and women of all ages. “We have both traditional and non-traditional students,” says Poeschel. “More women are enrolling as the industry now recognizes that they make good technicians as well as conscientious truck drivers.”

Recent truck driving completer Stefani Kersten became the third generation of her family to drive long haul. “It was something that my dad and grandfather did, and I always wanted to try it,” she says. “I finished in April 2011 and started with Roehl Transport the next month. I’ve driven steel, lumber, doors, and aluminum for cell towers. I once carried all the pieces of a complete log home, including the kitchen sink!”

Kersten recommends the program to others. “The first week of school is all in the classroom,” she remembers. “By the second week we were already in trucks, and all the classroom instruction started to immediately make sense. The instructors know how to turn book knowledge into practical capabilities.”

Today, the 33 year-old Kersten receives nothing but compliments on her driving. “I spent ten years cutting hair, where you have to pretend to be in a good mood even if you’re not,” she laughs. “Now, I’m out getting to see the country and getting paid for it!”

Training Almost Around the Clock to Meet the Need

Training services provided on behalf of the J. J. Keller Transportation Center at Fox Valley Technical College are currently working at full capacity. “We’re open at 7:30 in the morning and still going strong until well after 10:00 each night,” states associate dean Dan Poeschel. “We are in such demand that students are constantly wanting to attend any number of our programs.”

At any given time, there will be at least 200 students at the center in programs such as:

Automotive Collision Repair and Refinishing Technician
Automotive Maintenance Technician
Automotive Service Management
Automotive Technician
Automotive Technician - Imports
Automotive Technology
Automotive Technology - GM ASEP
Automotive Technology - Imports
CDL Straight Truck
Diesel Equipment Mechanic
Diesel Equipment Technology
Electrical Power Generator Service Technician
Exploring Automotive Careers
Truck Driving
Vehicle Refinishing and Repair Technology

“In addition, we train industry professionals from insurance adjustors to bus drivers to state troopers to maintenance people for fire trucks, and more,” adds Poeschel. “Every Sunday, you can see police cars on the skid pad learning how to handle a high speed chase and other critical driving skills.”

In a recent conversation with the transportation industry, employers urged college officials to develop a program in tractor-trailer repair. “There is a huge shortage of technicians needed to handle this kind of work,” says Poeschel. “Here is another example of our value to the community.”

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