Mar 20, 2008
The FABTECH program, an innovative partnership between Fox Valley Technical College and Milwaukee-based FABCO, can get you started on a new career as an equipment, engine, or generator technician—in less than one year.
It all started on Justin Goering’s grandpa’s farm almost a decade ago. Clambering around on all that heavy equipment sparked a lifelong passion in nine-year-old Justin. So last year, when his stepfather mentioned a partnership program between his employer and FVTC, Goering was intrigued.
His stepfather’s employer, FABCO, the exclusive Caterpillar dealer in Wisconsin and upper Michigan, developed a creative strategy for ensuring itself a steady supply of well-trained service technicians. The Milwaukee-based company, which has 23 locations among its three business units (FABCO Equipment, FABCO Power Systems, FABCO Rents), joined forces with the College to construct the FABTECH Service Technician Education Center at FVTC’s S.J. Spanbauer Center in Oshkosh. FABTECH’s lab area replicates a typical FABCO shop, albeit on a smaller scale.
Goering, who hails from Richmond, Minnesota, is grateful he was accepted into the 46-week program. “It’s fast-paced and hands-on,” he says. “The program is focused on getting you out working as fast as possible.”
That tight focus also appeals to 22-year-old Eau Claire native Patrick Hartung. “From an educational standpoint, I like how you get to learn from one another,” he says. “Our instructor puts us in situations where somebody else might look at a problem differently than you would. Instead of trying to solve it yourself, all the students discuss it together. That’s a good way to learn, through hands-on work, a lot of thinking, and communicating with others.”
The FABTECH program was launched in 2007 with a certification series of courses focused on four career tracks. After the first period ended in December, students had the option of leaving school and beginning a career as a rental service technician for FABCO Rents. Responsibilities include scheduled and preventative maintenance and physical inspections on Caterpillar and Allied rental equipment, as well as conducting field service work.
Students could also opt to complete the January-to-April period, qualifying them for work as an engine service technician for FABCO Equipment. These technicians maintain Caterpillar diesel engines by completing inspections, preventative maintenance requirements, and engine overhauling, along with engine testing and diagnostics.
Students interested in continuing with either construction equipment technology or electric power and marine technology could stay in school for a third period, from April to August. That’s the route Goering chose; he plans to be a construction equipment service technician for FABCO Equipment. He can expect to maintain and perform repairs on building construction equipment, compact construction equipment, and heavy construction equipment.
Hartung has his sights set on a position as an electric power generation/marine engine technician for FABCO Power Systems. After completing school, he’ll be removing, installing, overhauling, and repairing engines, generators, and engine components. “Power generation is a high-demand, growing field and there’s only a handful of generator schools in the United States,” he says. “It seemed like it would offer a lot of advancement opportunities in the future.”
FABTECH students do not have to invest thousands of dollars for lab tools. Matco Tools, a Stow, Ohio-based manufacturer and distributor of professional tools and toolboxes, provides tools valued at more than $9,000 for each FABTECH student to use in the lab at no charge. Upon graduation, the company also offers as much as a 60% discount on the tools to the students.
Raising the Bar High
In addition to technical skills, the students also develop valuable leadership and communication skills to prepare them for on-the-job interactions with colleagues and customers. Each week, a different student functions as lab supervisor, which enhances his or her ability to relate to supervision from both sides of a manager’s desk.
“We are preparing these students for professional positions, so we expect them to develop behaviors that you would see in a professional setting at one of our locations,” says Bob Bailey, FABCO’s human resources manager.
The approach works. “It’s amazing to see the students’ maturity level rise after just a few months in the program,” says Joe Berhausen, FABTECH’s lead instructor. “You can see them grow, technically and professionally. They’re dedicated to their craft, dedicated to learning, and dedicated to being the best they can be.”
State-of-the-Art Equipment and Commitment
There are few corporations quite like FABCO. “Caterpillar is the leading manufacturer of equipment in the world,” Bailey says. “If you want to work, for example, in the construction business as a service technician, we are the ultimate landing place.”
FABCO is deeply invested in every aspect of the FABTECH program. In addition to generous financial contributions, it also provides critical input to ensure relevancy and validity of curriculum content. “Direct communication with FABCO service managers helps us continuously improve this program,” Berhausen says.
FABCO also supplies state-of-the-art equipment to FABTECH, an advantage over competitive programs that often use outmoded equipment. “The technology included in machines today is significant,” Bailey says.
The number of students will vary from year to year depending on FABCO’s need for technicians, which account for a third of the company’s approximately 600 employees. All FABCO technician students are currently male, although two women have already been accepted in the FABTECH program for the 2008-09 academic year.
“Partnerships like this are the future of technical education,” says Dr. Susan May, FVTC’s executive vice president and chief academic officer. “As technology becomes more specific to industry, this is a great way for the College to continue to feed the pipeline with skilled workers.”
While FABTECH is a new addition to the FVTC curriculum, diesel-based programs have had a home at the College for 50 years. FVTC’s one-year Diesel Equipment Mechanic program offers a technical diploma while the newer, two-year Diesel Equipment Technology program results in an associate degree.
The Diesel Equipment Technology program is similar to FABTECH with one important distinction. “The diesel program is concentrated on trucks while FABTECH concentrates on off-road equipment,” explains Dan Poeschel, department chair of the Diesel and Truck Driving programs. “There are opportunities for graduates to work with highway trucks, agriculture equipment, marine equipment, off-road equipment, power plants, generators in hospitals, recreational vehicles, and anything else that has a diesel engine.”
The Diesel Equipment Technology program includes a one-semester, 14-credit Electrical Power Generator Service Technician certificate. “Students who choose to be electrical power generator service technicians can easily find work maintaining power generators,” Poeschel says. “Since 9/11, the number of generators produced has increased unbelievably because new laws require businesses to have a stand-by generator to run elevators and other equipment, so people could get out in case of a power shutdown.”
The Electrical Power Generator Service Technician certificate program, which started in the fall of 2007 in response to needs in the marketplace, trains students to be proficient with a wide variety of generator brands. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the program is its instructors: Kurt Eastling of Total Energy Systems, and Mike Moore of Baldor Electric Company. Eastling and Moore are the only two people in Wisconsin certified by the Electrical Generating Systems Association, the world’s largest organization exclusively dedicated to on-site power generation.
For more information, call 920-735-5750.