His search for a new career led him to Fox Valley Technical College. Working with counselors at the Appleton campus, Janssen quickly zeroed in on the Diesel Equipment Technology
program. “I was looking for something that would be hands-on, as well as a career that would let me stay in the area,” he says. “Plus, I wanted to find a job that wouldn’t lose work to outsourcing.”
An Industry in Need
In years past, working with diesel engines had a reputation of being a dirty, low-tech job with limited opportunities for advancement. Not anymore. “Today, diesel technology is about as high-tech as it gets,” says Dan Poeschel, an instructor in the Diesel Technology programs and chair of FVTC’s J. J. Keller Transportation Center.
Poeschel’s 30 years of experience in the industry has allowed him to witness a big paradigm shift. Modern diesel engines have an intricate array of electronics and house multiple computers on board. “The market offers hard-working technicians the opportunity to grab high-paying, high-tech jobs that don’t require you to bust your back,” notes Poeschel.
What’s more, the demand for trained technicians is high, and is projected to go higher, thanks to an aging workforce. “Nationwide, 40 to 50% of diesel technicians are expected to retire within five years,” says Poeschel. “About 205,000 new diesel technicians will be needed by 2014, but only 3,500 of them are graduating each year.”
The FVTC Advantage
Even though the demand is high and expected to climb, the better the training, the better the job prospects, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Fox Valley Tech is preparing its students to compete for high-end positions that can pay up to $28 per hour for experienced technicians.
“Our program requires students to complete a full year of training to earn their technical diploma,” says Poeschel. “Plus, students can also earn an associate degree. Both degrees include federal certifications in air-conditioning systems, air-brake systems, and annual inspections.”
Classroom work is complemented by five hours of training per day in a shop setting. Students learn their craft in real-life situations by working on some of the more than 40 vehicles that FVTC uses in its Truck Driving program.
The program can be demanding for students, but Janssen has taken it in stride. “It’s been a real challenge to return to school after being away so long,” he says. “But in some ways, it’s easier than when I was in high school. Things like house payments and car payments help you keep focused.”
Janssen and his wife, Amber, are making ends meet on her salary and his unemployment benefits, but some outside financial assistance has helped as well. The State of Wisconsin provided Janssen with a dislocated worker program grant of $2,500 per semester for up to four semesters. He also received a Trade Adjustment Assistant grant from the federal government.
Along with the financial assistance, Janssen gives a lot of credit to the FVTC faculty and advisors for helping him forge a new career. “Everyone has been eager to work with me and answer my questions,” he says. “The program’s instructors have been in the field and know what they’re doing.”
Though he’s only been in the program since August 2009, Janssen has come to share his instructors’ passion and excitement for diesel technology. He’s chosen to pursue an associate degree. He thinks it’s the best way to get himself back into the same salary range he was in when he worked for the paper mills. “I’m taking some business and management classes with the hope of maybe becoming a shop foreman or a service manager,” he says.
Steering Toward a Solid Career
In addition to a high-octane education, Fox Valley Technical College’s Diesel Equipment Technology program offers an unbeatable advantage in today’s economy: a 100% job-placement rate during the past three years.
Last year, 54 students received 147 job offers in Wisconsin. Before the economic downturn, the program was receiving around 300 job offers per year.
The jobs also aren’t your typical low-paying, entry-level gigs, either. “We’ve surveyed our alumni six months after graduation,” says Diesel Technology Instructor Dan Poeschel. “They typically earn anywhere between $25,000 and $43,000 per year. And after five years on the job, they’re earning from $31,000 to more than $56,000.”