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NMC invests in training diesel mechanics to combat shortage

August 21, 2013

Omaha company invests in training diesel mechanics to combat shortage

By Emily Nohr / World-Herald staff writer

August 21, 2013

Amber McDonald always liked working with her hands and, growing up in a family who owned a construction business, she early on appreciated how equipment like skid-steer loaders and excavators worked.

Still, she wasn't sure what she wanted to do after graduating from Bellevue West High School. That's when a teacher suggested she check out NMC Inc.'s Diesel Technology Sponsorship program, which offers tuition to Central Community College in Hastings, Neb., plus books and a stipend for tools and a tool cabinet, in exchange for a contract to work two years at NMC as a diesel technician.

“I got the interview and they accepted me, which is an awesome, awesome deal because I love my job,” said McDonald, 20, who graduated from Central in May and now works as a diesel technician servicing big rigs. You can spot her rolling around her pink tool cabinet at NMC's Omaha headquarters, which covers 36 acres and 156,000 square feet of combined building space at 11002 Sapp Brothers Drive.

McDonald is just one of more than 140 students who have gone through the program since it started about 15 years ago as NMC's answer to a shortage of skilled workers. NMC values its investment in the program at more than $15,000 per student, and now can count on a pipeline supplying technicians annually.

“Every company like ours is looking for diesel technicians,” said Joe LeGrand, corporate recruiter for NMC, which specializes in the rental, sales and service of Caterpillar construction, agricultural and electrical equipment and parts.

Besides Omaha, the company has locations in Lincoln, Columbus, Norfolk, Doniphan, Fremont, Grand Island, North Platte and Scottsbluff in Nebraska; plus ones in Council Bluffs, Sioux City, Mason City and Des Moines in Iowa; Sioux Falls in South Dakota; and Salt Lake City.

Currently, there are 28 students enrolled at Central as sponsorship students, and 14 are scheduled to graduate in May and begin working at their assigned facility. Another 14 students are just beginning their first year of school.

The U.S. Department of Labor expects employment for diesel mechanics to grow 15 percent from 2010 to 2020, citing forecasts for more freight shipped across the country and older vehicles needing to be retrofitted to comply with regulations. Baby boomer retirements are also a factor.

LeGrand said NMC's program is gaining momentum. It's grown from receiving five or six applications a year to more than 50.

To drum up interest, NMC has reached out to teachers and counselors and partnered with organizations like SkillsUSA, a career and technical organization that aims to create a more skilled workforce, and Dream It, Do It, which works to make young people aware of opportunities in manufacturing and connects them with internships and jobs.

NMC, which was founded in 1938 in North Platte and has more than 600 employees at its 19 facilities, also gives presentations to high schools, hosts tours and offers job shadows.

“All of those efforts have gotten us where we are today to where our number of applications has increased and interest in our program has increased,” LeGrand said.

It's drawn people like 22-year-old Dan Manion, who like McDonald wasn't sure what to pursue after high school at Millard North. But after talking with his shop teacher, job shadowing at NMC and having a couple of phone interviews, he decided to take the sponsorship program offer.

Manion graduated from Central two years ago with the diesel tech degree and has been working full time in NMC's power generation division a little more than two years. While working, he's returned to school and earned a bachelor's degree in business administration from Bellevue University through NMC's tuition reimbursement program.

“As far as schooling goes, (NMC) has been a huge help in getting me in the right direction,” he said.

Students who are part of this year's sponsorship program are mostly recent high school graduates, though some have already completed their first year of school at Central and could even be adults changing careers. LeGrand said one student selected this year, for example, just finished a stint with the National Guard and is now starting at Central.

This summer, students fresh out of high school rotated to each area of NMC to observe how the company works, then spent four weeks as interns in the shop alongside a mentor in their assigned division. Meanwhile, students who already had completed a year at school worked in the shop to earn hours toward summer credits.

When students return to Hastings, they can work in NMC facilities during breaks to get more hours.

“It's not a deal where they work for us in the summer and then they go off to school and we say, 'We'll see you next summer,' ” LeGrand said. “We're very hands on and involved their entire two years to make sure they have the help and support they need.”

He estimated that more than 80 percent of students who are part of the program stay on with the company after the two years of working are up. Even if they decide to pursue something else, the tool set and cabinet, which is valued at more than $5,400, is theirs and they leave free of debt from school with nothing to owe NMC.

McDonald said she's benefited from the program especially as a woman, and a petite one at that, because she's been able to pursue a career people might not expect her to want. And it's given her the skills to be capable of doing everything her male counterparts can do, she said.

“It's a really good feeling when the co-workers come up and say that's a good job,” she said.

Even better though, McDonald said, is hearing from trucker owners.

“I did (a job) for a guy and he came in the next day and he said, 'My Jake brakes (compression release engine brakes) have never worked so well in my life,' ” she said. “I was like, 'Yea!' ”

Reprinted with permission from: Omaha World Herald, August 21, 2013

About The NMC Group

As one of the longest operating Caterpillar dealerships, NMC has served customers with equipment and service solutions since 1938. Our company remains customer-focused by providing a comprehensive line of product sales, parts, rental and services vital to the construction, power generation, material handling, on-highway truck, agriculture and railroad industries. Whether it’s Caterpillar equipment or another leading equipment manufacturer, NMC continually forges new solutions to meet the changing needs of its customers.

For more information about NMC's Sponsorship and Scholarship Opportunities please visit:

The NMC Group of Companies