Four years of high school, then four years at a university, and on to a career. It’s the typical education-to-work path that students have been taught for years.
However, education paths no longer follow such a straight line to job satisfaction, as Nick Braun, current RDO Equipment Co. Access Your Future (AYF) Service Intern experienced.
His Own Path
After growing up in Annandale, MN, Nick attended high school at Wright Technical Center, a school in the nearby town of Buffalo, focusing on technical and alternative education. Nick had always been around engines and spent most of his time fixing smaller machines like ATVs, dirt bikes, and snowmobiles, as well as cars. Wright Technical Center’s automotive program was the perfect place for him to build his skills.
Rather than a tradition high school setting, focused on general studies, Wright Technical Center aims to put students on the path to a specific career, while still in high school. Everything from automotive and construction technology, to cosmetology and graphic communications are offered as areas of focus.
Additionally, the school holds an annual career fair to further help guide students down the right path, whether that’s immediate entrance to the workforce after high school or continued education.
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In the fall of his junior year, Nick met North Dakota State College of Science’s (NDSCS) Admission Counselor, Jim Johnson at a career fair. His interest in continuing education was piqued, this time shifting from automotive to heavy diesel equipment technician.
“My background was working on smaller equipment, but I thought it would be really cool to work on the big machines,” he recalled.
It’s also where he learned about RDO’s AYF internship program, a partnership with colleges to sponsor students, providing an educational incentive upon graduation and prepare them for careers working in an equipment dealership setting.
Getting Hands-On with Heavy Equipment
Nick joined the AYF program and prepared to start college at NDSCS in the fall. But, even before continuing his education at NDSCS, Nick was offered the opportunity to start getting hands-on experience right away, working with the RDO team in Sauk Rapids.
“I work on just about everything that comes in,” Nick said. The Sauk Rapids store sees a lot of Vermeer equipment and, “from brush chippers to grinders to trommel screeners,” Nick says he has worked on them all. He’s also had the chance to work on large Deere equipment, including dozers, excavators, and payloaders.
Going from small gas engines to heavy diesel equipment proved to be no issue for Nick, who Sauk Rapids’ Aftermarket Manager, Lucas Brockhaus, describes as, “Very mechanically inclined. I think he could work on any machine or engine.”
Lucas further explained that, in addition to Nick’s knack for figuring out engines, he took the initiative to ask questions and learn during his time working with the lead shop technician.
And he’s done it all while furthering his in-the-classroom education at NDSCS. The AYF program allows Nick to work during school breaks during the year and over the summer break – a nice, unexpected bonus that has come from participating in the program.
“It’s nice to have a job lined up every summer,” he said.
Building on that benefit, Lucas says the hands-on experience AYF students receive is one of the biggest advantages of participating in the program.
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“You certainly learn in school but where these students are really learning a lot is working hand-in-hand with the technicians,” he said.
And the benefits don’t end in the service shop. In addition to seeing him grow his skills in the shop, Lucas has enjoyed seeing Nick, a normally quiet, reserved young man, come out of his shell a bit.
“There was one instance where one of our sales guys was really busy and Nick stepped in to do a machine walkaround with a customer,” Lucas recalls. “He ended up selling them the machine!”
Nick has had such a great experience at RDO and in the AYF program, he was happy to share his story and answer questions during the Wright Technical Center’s recent trip to NDSCS.
Paying it Forward
Every year, Jim and his colleagues organize an annual motor coach trip for Wright Technical Center students to visit the NDSCS campus. Last fall, they took 54 students to meet the faculty, and tour diesel classrooms and labs. At the end of the tour, Nick joined them to share his story and answer their questions about the college and his experience in the AYF program.
“They were interested to learn how I found RDO and the AYF program’s educational incentive especially,” Nick said.
According to Jim, his story resonated.
“The students always hear from me or other Admission Counselors at the college,” Jim said. “But hearing a firsthand account from another student, someone only two years older than them and so very much ‘in their shoes’ really made an impact on them.”
While the educational incentive for schooling was always a big plus for Nick and something he greatly appreciated about joining the RDO team, he says the work environment and the people are what has really confirmed his career choice and place of employment.
“For me, it’s the people I work with,” Nick said when asked what he likes most about what he does. “The work itself is really rewarding but, if you like the people you work with, that’s the biggest plus.”
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