North Dakota diesel tech program grows 25%, adds Komatsu program

Marcia Doyle Headshot
Updated May 13, 2014
The Komatsu/NDSCS program takes about 20 months to complete, with students alternating between on-campus sessions and dealer internships.The Komatsu/NDSCS program takes about 20 months to complete, with students alternating between on-campus sessions and dealer internships.

A long-standing diesel tech program in the southeast corner of North Dakota gained an additional industry partner this week. Komatsu America has joined John Deere, Caterpillar and Case in establishing a brand-specific two-year degree at the North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton, aimed at channeling techs into dealer shops.

In the past two years, the NDSCS diesel tech enrollment has grown 25 percent, and this past September it opened up a 65,000-square-foot addition to its program facilities.

Most of the 275 students enrolled at the 125,000-square-foot facility are in a general, non-brand-specific curriculum. “Everyone attributes this growth to the energy sector here, but that’s only part of it,” says Terry Marohl, diesel technology department chair. “Agriculture is also growing, and there’s just an all-around tech shortage in the upper Midwest.”

For Don Shilling, president of Komatsu-dealer General Equipment & Supplies, Fargo, North Dakota, it is about energy sector demand, however.

“We could easily hire a dozen diesel technicians right now in our locations in North Dakota, Minnesota and South Dakota,” Shilling says. “We’ve had a tremendous influx of business, both from local contractors and from contractors who have entered the area.

Since 2008, General Equipment tripled the number of machines it sold, prompting the company to double the amount of techs it employs. “Many of our techs are putting in 60- to 70-hour weeks; I’d like to get them on a more normal work schedule,” Schilling says.

The Komatsu/ NDSCS program has been in planning for some time; Savage, Minnesota dealer  Road Machinery & Supplies is also participating. A year ago, General Equipment hired Ann Pollert to recruit high schoolers into the program. “Her busy season’s just about to start, since late summer through Christmas is the best time to recruit students,” Shilling says.

The program’s earn-while-you-learn message will be attractive to students and parents facing the escalating costs of higher education and current job uncertainties: graduate with a good GPA, and 90 percent of your tuition, fees and supplies will be reimbursed. Selected tech students spend summers and parts of the school year working in dealer shops, working alongside seasoned techs. When they graduate, they have a job. “Our placement rate is almost 100 percent,” Marohl says.

More important, Shilling says, it’s a job with a future. “A good qualified tech will likely get promoted to service advisor, shop foreman or into sales. And as they get promoted, we’ll need people behind them to take their place.”