Finding agricultural machinery technicians remains a big challenge for dealers across Australia.
It's not a new problem for the sector and five years ago CNH Industrial set out to address its skilled labour shortage.
The parent company of Case IH and New Holland now partners with Riverina TAFE to run a four-year apprentice training program.
CNH Industrial Australia/New Zealand technical training manager Darryl Piper said after approaching Riverina TAFE about the partnership, a specific program was developed for CNH Industrial apprentices.
Mr Piper said the supply of highly qualified apprentices was critical for dealerships and their customers.
He said the training offered could help with retention rates, an increasing challenge in smaller rural and regional communities.
"Through my experience, I've learned the key to customer satisfaction is how a customer is treated when they take their machine back for servicing, so to help ensure that experience is the best it can be, dealerships need the best-quality technicians," Mr Piper said.
CNH Industrial is beginning to reap the rewards of the program, with 200 apprentices enrolled this year.
Trainees now come from across NSW, Queensland, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania to take part.
Apprentices are sent by their dealership to Wagga, NSW, for three years and complete their fourth and final year of training back in the dealership workshop.
Each apprentice is trained on the appropriate machinery, whether that is Case IH or New Holland, to ensure they are familiar with the machinery they will work on when they return to their dealership.
"Take the example of a Case IH apprentice, we want them to become experts in the Case IH brand to develop the skillsets we desire and to encourage them to remain with the brand throughout their career," Mr Piper said.
"The more they know about Case IH machinery, the more inclined we think they are to stay with the brand, and progress their career in a Case IH dealership."
CNH Industrial also wanted to ensure TAFE trainers were equipped with knowledge and experience working on the company's machinery.
TAFE trainers are provided with CNH product training at the company's national training centre in Wagga.
"We bring in products from all over Australia, and they remain in Wagga for a number of months at a time so the apprentices are able to get a real feel for and understanding of them," Mr Piper said.
A dealer I was talking to recently, with a number of branches, said they could put on 15 qualified technicians and apprentices immediately if they could find them.- Darryl Piper
Last year CNH Industrial conducted a dealer survey which revealed technician availability was the single biggest need and the most difficult to source.
At the time the survey found half of the almost 800 jobs advertised by dealers from July 20, 2020, to June 21, 2021, remained vacant.
Given this demand, Mr Piper said the program was able to accommodate more apprentices.
"A dealer I was talking to recently, with a number of branches, said they could put on 15 qualified technicians and apprentices immediately if they could find them," he said.
Mr Piper is also heading a team exploring new initiatives to boost recruitment and employee retention rates.
He said targeted field day recruitment activities and doing more to encourage school-leavers to think about a career in the industry were being considered.
"So many of these students just aren't aware of what these machines can do, so we need to tell the story of just how advanced agricultural technology is these days," Mr Piper said.
"Once they know the farmer no longer needs to have his hands on the wheel of the tractor - he might be watching something on his phone - you've immediately got their attention.
"They're just amazed at what our tractors, our combines, our sprayers are capable of today."
Mr Piper also wants people considering a career as a technician to know that a job within the industry is a job for life.
"They need to know there is a career pathway and they'll always have a job," he said.
"The ag industry isn't going anywhere and if you're a technician, you'll be able to walk in the door anywhere."
This story is part of our ongoing Pay Day series which explores the challenges around labour shortages currently impacting all sectors of agriculture.
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