Focus on Careers: Outdoor Power

Focus on Careers: Outdoor Power

Technical diploma program highlighted on WHBY

| By: Daley-Hinkens, Carmelyn M

Snowblowers and lawnmowers are two key pieces of outdoor equipment found in most Wisconsin garages. These are just two examples of the type of equipment students are trained to repair while enrolled in the Outdoor Power Equipment Technician program at FVTC. The 31-credit technical diploma can be earned through two different pathways. Mike Fassbender, instructor of Outdoor Power recently explained how the two pathways differ while being interviewed by WHBY's Hayley Tenpas for Focus on Careers. Mike also shares the many well-known Wisconsin companies looking to hire our students. 

Tap the video to listen to the interview or scroll down to read the transcript.



Tenpas:  We're having one of our favorite segments, which is Focus on Careers through Fox Valley Technical College, which we always enjoy very much. My special guest for this segment is Mike Fassbender, and he's an instructor in the Outdoor Power programs. Welcome, Mike.

Fassbender: Thank you. Thank you. Hello everyone.

Tenpas:  We're very happy to have you. And we're going to have you tell us a little bit about your current role at Fox Valley Technical College, and a little bit about your career before you joined the college.

Fassbender: Sure, sure. Most definitely. In my current role, I am the instructor for the Outdoor Power Equipment and Power Sports program. My career before joining college is a good mix of a lot of different things. I mean, I grew up on a farm, always around machinery, always working on stuff. My dad and my good friend John were always good mentors, showing me mechanical skills. And then once I graduated from high school, I had a few different jobs. And then one of the things, um, in like about early 2000 is I was a truck driver for a lumber yard, but I also got into what they call garden tractor pulling. Um, it's a fun thing to do. Um, expensive hobby. So, with that, I always worked on people's lawnmowers. And in 2009, um, I noticed Fox Valley Tech had this program called the Outdoor Power Equipment Program. And once I saw it, I'm like, I got to go there, and I got to do this. This is fun. And I spent a year there, graduated with the program. Um, the instructors were great at that time. And then in 2010, when I graduated, I went to work for a local agriculture dealer.

Fassbender: They had lawn and garden equipment, UTVs, and stuff like that. So, it was right up my alley for my passion for working on stuff. I spent four years as a technician there and then the last year and a half managing the lawn and garden and the dealership, the technicians. So, from there, what led one thing into another was Fox Valley Tech had an instructional aide or support staff position that opened in 2016 and worked underneath some great instructors for both the Ag mechanics or power program and the outdoor power equipment and power sports programs at the time. So, I got to learn a lot of different things about education, how the program runs, and the curriculum. And then 2021, Dale Drees retired -- great instructor, did a lot of great things for the program-- but it was time, so I applied for the job and I was lucky enough to get the job, and then I wanted to take the program to the next level was kind of my goal.

Tenpas:  Wow. That's an interesting background. And, you know, the guys talk about the technical college wanting people that have real-life experience and those are who they want for instructors. And you sound like you fit the bill perfectly. Thanks. Yes. And let's talk about the outdoor power options at Fox Valley Technical College. You offer both a technical diploma and a certificate credential. So, tell us about the technical diploma. First, what do students learn and what kind of jobs will they have when they're ready to graduate?

Fassbender: Great. Yes. Um, for the Outdoor power equipment program, we have two versions of the technical diploma that we just rolled out this last fall. One of the versions is students come in and typically, those students are the ones that come right out of high school, and they want to do the in-person classes, and it's a one-year technical diploma. And then they graduate after starting in the fall, that following May. The types of things that the students will learn are in the fall, typically, it's going to be your handheld equipment:  weed trimmers, chainsaws, leaf blowers, small gas engines, DC electrical class, to introduce the students to that as a building block. And then we also get into the hydraulics drivelines class where the students are exposed to anything from a snowblower to a walk-behind mower to high-end garden tractor transmissions and stuff like that.

Fassbender: The second version of the program is what they call the hybrid program, because one of the things as I look back… in 2008, 2009, I could see that things were going not in a good direction. And I'm like, well, I really want to change my career, but the programs were only offered during the day. So, one of my innovations was, how can I make this same program that's so popular with so many people available for people that are in a career but want to change careers? Also, may be a graduate of high school but he must go and work and has financial responsibilities for car payments, house payments, or whatever.

Fassbender: So, we came up with splitting the program over two years, because it makes it easier for a student to come in and take half of the classes each year and still graduate after two years with a one-year technical program. And with that, the students will take online versions of the lectures, book work, quizzes, and tests, and then twice a week they'll come in and do the hands-on labs. So, it allows them to still be able to retrain and that's gaining popularity, too, because we're starting to see some people coming in and they're like, hey, I want to do this and train… and it's becoming even more popular than I thought it was going to be.

So, with the certificate program, we also noticed that students who came through the program… we got a variety of students from right out of high school to people retraining like myself into a new career but also wanting to start their own business. So, what we tried to do is -- how can we couple that together for somebody that doesn’t want to take an entire year, but wants to start a part-time business? Because there's such a need out there for repairing this type of equipment.

Fassbender: So, we combined some of the outdoor power classes, such as the introduction to the four-stroke gasoline engine and two-stroke handheld class, along with an entrepreneur class that helps the student understand the inner workings and behind-the-scenes of a typical business so they can get started working towards their own business and kind of going forward. How do we get them ready for jobs? Where will they work? It's all over the place. Honestly, like myself, I wound up going to an agriculture dealer that had small engine equipment and UTVs and ATVs. You can work for a small engine dealer or an independent dealer. But in the spring, we also work on ATVs, UTVs, and motorcycles… so the student also has an opportunity to go work at a power sports dealer. And finally, Wisconsin is filled with a lot of manufacturers such as Ariens here in Brillion, Harley-Davidson in Milwaukee, Briggs and Stratton, Kohler, and too many different brands to name, John Deere and Horicon. You know, our students graduate and can go to work in the manufacturing sector as well.

Tenpas: So, lots of opportunities out there. And I love that you looked at what's going to make it best for the students, make it so that they can do it while they're still having to work. I have family, you know that's a great story to tell. And the fact that your enrollment is going like gangbusters, right? Correct.

Tenpas: Welcome back to Focus Fox Valley. We're so happy that you're with us this afternoon. And we are talking Focus on Careers with Fox Valley Technical College. And our guest is Mike Fassbender. Mike is an instructor at the Outdoor Power Programs. And we've been talking about what that means. And one of the things we were talking about is the demand for the job. So, what are your students saying? You gave us a great list of different places and different organizations around the state of Wisconsin where they might be finding jobs. What are you seeing as far as the demand for the folks who would come to your classes and get your certificate?

Fassbender: Right now, what I'm seeing for demand is a lot of times, even before the students come, they're already working. But normally once or twice a week I get a phone call from somebody, whether it be a golf course or a dealer, they're looking for good people, and they know that the program puts out good quality candidates so they're always calling us. So, the demand, I would say, is very great, very good.

Tenpas:   T us about your students. Do they come right out of high school or are they adult learners that are making that change… they may say, this isn't what I want to do. I might want to look at doing something else. What are you seeing in your students?

Fassbender: What I'm seeing for my students. What's neat about it is it's not just the traditional student coming right out of high school coming into the tech college. I'm seeing students who are working at a place and doing a career change or want to get career training. And I'm also seeing some students that are coming in near retirement and just want to learn how to fix this kind of stuff. And they just take a class here and there on their equipment that they're doing. So, it's neat to see the variety of people that we're getting in. I mean, we get military people that come in after they come back and it's a great mix. So, the students have experience of working with all different types of people by the time they graduate.

Tenpas:  Yeah, because that's what we all need because we're going to work with all different types of people when we get out into the working world. Who should consider exploring the program? What advice would you give as an instructor as to who should be looking at this?

Fassbender: I would say anybody that has any sort of passion, people that love cutting grass and making sure that their lawn looks perfect. Well, you need good operating equipment to make that happen. Other people love outdoor power sports. And with the recent townships now opening for people to drive their UTVs and ATVs on these roads have opened the need for technicians to repair them. And they're also becoming more sophisticated. I mean, UTVs before never had air conditioning. Now they have air conditioning. They have rear cameras on them. They have GPS. So, the students are learning a lot about technology these days.

Tenpas:  And what should they like to do that would make them a good fit?

Fassbender: A lot of students come in thinking that they're just going to be a service technician. Honestly, if you are a good people person, you want to learn about the equipment. Maybe that you're not so much in the mechanical sense but, hey, you know, we have had students that come in go through the program, and now they work in parts and sales, too, on top of it. So, anybody that has that kind of passion… the outdoors type people to people who love working with lawn and garden equipment.

Tenpas:  Mike, I would say you are one of those people. It's very apparent that you enjoy what you do and that you've had great ideas that you've added to the program since you started teaching. And I think you've found your niche as an instructor in the outdoor power program, that's for sure. So, if you wanted to share this with folks, if you wanted people to, because I'm sure people listening would say, well, I have a brother, cousin, child, grandchild, which might be this might be a good fit. Where can we learn more?

Fassbender: You can start by going to or I always like to you in person so you can come on down. Come check us out. Come and see the types of equipment that we have. I like to really showcase what we have so the students can see what they would be working on and wrenching on while they're there.

Tenpas:  I think that's great advice. You can always say, come to the website, but come, see them. Visit Mike. His enthusiasm will rub off. And like you say, you can get the questions to the answers you want. So, thank you so much for joining us this afternoon.

Fassbender: Thank you for having me.