Caterpillar’s ThinkBIG program partners with area colleges all over the world to give students work and classroom experience as they prepare to enter the in-demand field service tech workforce.
As the HR Development Manager for Mustang CAT, Dave Edwards knows a thing or two about the job outlook and demand for service technicians. In this exclusive interview with MSI Data he shares information about the CAT dealer prep program—ThinkBIG—and how it’s helping companies shrink the growing demand for field service techs and getting workers started in a rewarding career.
MSI: Can you give a few details or general overview of the ThinkBIG program?
Dave Edwards (DE): It’s a two year associate’s degree program, but unique because 50% of the program is spent doing paid, hands-on internships. It’s structured by 16-week semesters—the first half of the semester, students are in the classroom from roughly 8-5. Then they do an eight week paid internship at their sponsor site. It’s ideal for the students because they can earn money while getting an education.
MSI: What are the most valuable skills students take away from the Program?
DE: Graduates gain a clear picture of the job they’ll be walking into. They understand what’s expected of CAT technicians so when they come to work, they’re already trained and know the expectations of the company. The prep program gives students and the company the opportunity to see if they’re a good fit.
Students also gain specific knowledge about Caterpillar equipment and systems. Since they’re exposed to all of it, they get a good idea of what they like working on the most. They also get trained on the Caterpillar proprietary software and even have the opportunity to teach some of the more experienced techs who might not have as much exposure to new technologies.
MSI: Can you give a sense of the need for service technicians today?
DE: It’s all consuming. From an HR standpoint, our biggest need as a company is for qualified technicians. This trend has been going on for several years.
Unfortunately, high schools have moved away from vocational education so fewer students have gravitated towards skilled trades. Contrary to grease monkey stereotypes, techs need to be mentally sharp, but unfortunately, that’s not always how they’re seen.
This gap is critical for CAT dealers because the service department is a big source of revenue. It affects our customers and our ability to sell machines if we can’t find the right support.
Honestly, we could probably hire 40 technicians today if we could find them. We’ve recently had to take more aggressive approaches to recruit technicians. Because there’s such a shortage of skilled workers, there’s been renewed effort on education and recruiting by a lot of companies.
MSI: So clearly there’s a demand for technicians. What are the job opportunities for graduates of the program?
DE: Most graduates of ThinkBIG go on to work for the CAT dealer that sponsors them. But because they do graduate with an associate’s degree, a lot of doors are open to them in areas like management, sales, and service support.
Students in the ThinkBIG program also have the option to continue in the ThinkBIGGER program at Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kansas where they can pursue an additional two years and get a bachelor’s degree in order to be hired as service managers or work for the manufacturer.
Interested in learning more about a ThinkBIG program in your area? Check out the locations listing here.
Make sure to catch all of our Service Technician Careers series right here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6
Service Technician Careers: A Guide to Finding, Hiring, and Retaining Top Field Workers
A strong workforce is at the core of field service success. Use this comprehensive guide–with expert advice from Texas Caterpillar dealer and top applicant tracking company, BirdDog–to build a quality team for your organization.
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