RDO Recruiting Program Manager Andy Luikens joins host Tony Kramer to discuss career opportunities in the equipment industry.
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Tony Kramer: Hi, I'm Tony Kramer with RDO Equipment Company. Thanks for tuning in to another episode of the Agriculture Technology Podcast.
This is episode 160. Welcome to the new year, welcome to a new season of the Agriculture Technology Podcast. This is season number seven. Wow, we are on episode 160, seven seasons into it. Six seasons recorded, working on seventh season. This is awesome. In this episode, we are going to sit down with Andy Luikens and talk a little bit about some of the struggles in recruitment of service technician in today's world and how technology plays a role in finding the right people for the right job.
One of the questions I always wonder is, what can young aspiring technicians or anybody in the ag industry, what can they do today to help make decisions for their future? Andy, Big Andy, seven-foot cowboy, what are we going to call you? Welcome to the show.
Andy Luikens: Hey, thanks, Tony. It's great to be here. They do call me RDO Big Andy, that's just because I stand seven feet tall, but I've got another alias. We won't get into too much the seven-foot cowboy, but absolutely awesome to join you today and talk a little bit about recruiting.
Tony: Great. Before we dive into it, Andy, tell us a little bit about yourself, how you got to where you are today.
Andy: Yes, I started and I grew up in the equipment industry. My father was a parts manager for 40 years and then a store manager as well. I knew this business a little bit, but I didn't go home to take over the store or anything like that. I went to college and started working in academics and was actually helping students figure out what they were going to do for school. I did that both at four-year and two-year institutions and started to realize that the two-year colleges and the four-year colleges were providing just a great product.
Industry called me up one day and said, "Hey, can you come help us figure out how we can get young talent into the enterprise and into our organization?" I've been doing that for about six years now and really had an absolute blast, getting to engage young people, and, quite frankly, people that are changing their careers and making shifts along the way, that happens too. Anybody that's looking to get into this business of working with equipment, I get to hang out and talk with them.
Tony: You are the Recruitment Program Manager here at RDO Equipment. You see a lot of it, it's all the industry that we cover in the R.D. Offutt umbrella. What I want to dive into today is the service technician role or the equipment field, what does recruitment look like? Of course, COVID, we all know it, we're living through it, how has that changed? Let's start by talking about what did the recruitment field or the recruitment role look like, say, five years ago?
Andy: You bring up a good point in the world of the industry. Five years ago, we had applicants, the job market was good, there was low unemployment. Then there was a period of unemployment. Maybe that gets us a little bit closer to 10 years ago, but there was a lot of people looking for jobs. We were having to feed through applicants, and they were finding us, they were looking for work. They would apply, apply, apply and try to find the best job.
That is drastically changed today. There's been this lull in the middle where the world was doing great, and we had to go out, an industry as a whole, the equipment world had to start to hunt and find their people. Now you add in the world of the pandemic and the fact that this business hasn't stopped. We're still putting a crop in the ground every single year, it doesn't stop, even if there's a global pandemic. We're still having to hunt for people, and we're really having to make a compelling case of why joining the world of equipment is so important, how they can make a difference.
You also factor in that way back, significant number of years, the trades and the technical schools were really the place everybody was talking about and everybody was going there. They were high in demand careers. Us as a world, we changed, and I beg to say that the internet is part of the reason that it changed. We started to realize that there was a need for some more four-year degrees and there's still a perfect fit for those people, but we lost sight a little bit of these trade programs that can provide somebody a successful career after just a couple of years of education and really doing something that's making an impact.
When I say doing, I mean they're turning a wrench or they're solving a problem on an actual machine every day. That's probably the biggest shift in the world, not just in the recruiting world, but just the overall mindset of, do people still even talk about these careers with their young person or themselves about what should I do in my life?
Tony: Yes, you bring up a really good point there, Andy, that I didn't even think about before we sat down to talk about this. The shift in society, the shift in the world of- I think back to when I was in high school or even when I was just a little shooter, the trade industries or the tradesmen out there, tradesmen and women doing those type of things, the plumbing, the age fact, the technicians, the electricians, all of that stuff, it was very, very common.
Now today, I think that it's either less common or we've got less kids going to higher education or things like that. That brings in a whole another spectrum of what is happening in not only the ag industry, but industries all over and finding the right people. You talked about one thing that brings me or leads me right into the next question. How is technology changing what we find for service technicians or how you recruit or go about recruiting the right people for the right job?
Andy: First and foremost, technology is now the biggest selling piece of this entire deal. If you don't show up, and when you start talking about this industry, if you don't start saying specific examples about technology, you've missed the boat on somebody. I really equated down to the fact that we used to be able to go find some of the best technicians right off the farm. They were competing against six brothers and four sisters to take over the family farm, and one of them was going to get kicked out, so they'd get smart and go get a two-year degree and become a service tech for us and then charge their siblings to work on the farm.
That doesn't work as much anymore. The families are a little bit smaller, some of the communities are getting a little more rural. With that, we've had to start to look at different populations. Some of those groups, you think about folks that are in a community that maybe never seen a tractor in their life, but they're really dang good on the computer, and they can solve problems, and they can work on a machine.
I always joke with it, it's the kids that have been tinkering on their car that they've had since they were 14 when they bought it, and they made it work, and they tuned it up. Then back at home, they're working on their computer, they're playing games, they're looking at technology as a way to advance themselves. What they don't realize is all that stuff's happening in these machines. We're seeing autonomy, we're seeing the global positioning systems, we're seeing the data that's used in our agricultural world every day, and we just need to be able to tell that story.
As an industry as a whole, we need to scream it from the mountaintops, because that's where we're going to find them. There's only a handful of kids back on the farm, and quite frankly, for us in the industry, we need them as customers just as much as we need them in our business as an employee or a team member. The big thing is to share that message. I think a lot of it is just the introduction, talking about what's new and futuristic. John Deere happens to be one of our partners, I go do a lot of industry talks.
Six, seven years ago, they put together a video called The Future of Farming. There's two versions of it. I'll be honest, I must be one of the single biggest viewers of that thing because I've seen it 14,000 times. It's embedded in my presentation. I love showing people that video, because students look at it and they go, "There's no way that's real." Then you think about today and you go, "Yes, 60-70% of that is already happening." Maybe we don't have the clear screen on our truck. It's pretty incredible the way the world has changed and we need to talk about that because it's not this dirty job anymore. I think that's the reputation that this has got a little bit.
Tony: Absolutely. I will be honest with you. I am also an avid watcher of the John Deere Farm Forward video. They got, like you said, two versions of it. One has just came out a couple years ago and the other one was prior to that, but go out and watch that if you haven't seen it yet. John Deere Farm Forward, it's a great video. Just spit-balling, looking out into the future of what the ag industry could look like.
You bring up another point about a lot of people don't realize the amount of technology that's either embedded in these machines and/or the technology that is being used as tools. We talk about John Deere's service advisor tool, or you take your Chevy or Ford pickup into the dealership, they plug a computer into that machine or a pick up to figure out what's going on with it. There's so much technology involved.
The next question I want to ask you, Andy, is this technology that's being used either as a tool or embedded in the machines, you talked about the conversation and how it's presented and all of that. Technician or service work is not just turning wrenches anymore, there's a lot more to it. Is all of this making it easier or harder to find the right people for those jobs?
Andy: I'd maybe say, it's a bit of the split in the difference, but it's probably a little bit harder, because the old one popper that great-granddad had was easily fixed with a toolbox that you could probably carry, it's the size of your lunchbox today. Nowadays, I've said this in my whole career, the single first tool that you will buy, or in our case be given, is your laptop. We need to find tech people that are interested in that.
The ability to understand what they see and diagnose on the computer is a skillset that's a little bit different than ever before, and it's hard to find that. You got to find somebody who's willing to go turn the wrench after they diagnose. That's a bit of a mind shift for somebody where they just like to fix things. That's maybe the old standard cliché of a service technician is, they would see something and they'd fix it. It didn't matter how it got fixed, but it got fixed and it was working again.
Where now it's not so much the case. You have to really diagnose it and make sure you're making the right fix, because the whole machine is powered by technology and computers and the electrical side of stuff. It's pretty easy to rebuild a hydraulic cylinder if you know that's what's wrong. It's not so easy to repair the mainframe technology if you don't know what's wrong yet. You got to diagnose that right away and be able to handle that and be able to switch on the fly. You look at the machine and you say, "Whoops, this attachment isn't working because of X, Y and Z, and this cutting bar is wrong."
Now I'm looking at this thing and it's throwing an error code because of X, Y, Z sensor. That's a different fix and it's a different mindset. You have to find a technician who's a little more problem-focused, but willing to challenge themselves and willing to take the risk and want to learn with the business and with the industry, because gone are the days of everything being the same. Every single year, something new and different comes out and you have to have that passion for learning in order to be a successful technician.
You can't just go to school for two years and think you're going to be a world class, level-four technician. It's not going to happen. You have to constantly be willing to learn and update your skillsets to adapt with the change. I think that's a person that has that drive, but it's also something that's really hard to find. It's not an easy skillset that you just get right away. You've got to earn that and grow yourself into that mentality.
Tony: I do want to mention, you talk about these skillsets and what it takes to work on not only the ag equipment, but if you're an auto technician, if you're a computer technician, whatever it may be, whether you are a service technician for a company in the industry or in our case being an ag, if you are on your own farm, fixing your own equipment, the same thing goes into it. It's having that knowledge, having that understanding of equipment today and equipment in the future is very technologically advanced. There's a lot of computers, a lot of controllers, a lot of sensors.
It doesn't matter if we're talking, again, a service technician here at RDO Equipment or if it's the young kid on the farm that he learned his way through it and he's on the farm with dad, and they fix their own equipment. That's totally fine too, but there's just so much more involved today than just turning wrenches and changing fluids. Again, taking recruitment out of it and taking the dealership aspect out of it, even at-home work, at-home repairs, things like that, there's so much more to just repair industry, not only from a dealership perspective.
The last thing I want to ask you, Andy, is a young kid that is looking to find their career path or somebody that's, like you had mentioned, looking to change their career path. Give me a just a couple, two or three best practices, what can these people be doing to really find that path to get them where they want to be?
Andy: I think the biggest one that people need to realize is that there isn't a single dealership or business in this world today that doesn't have an open door policy to somebody thinking they're going to change. The minute you have an interest or you're intrigued, walk in the front door, ask them questions, ask for the store manager, ask if they have a recruiting person or somebody like that to have some conversation about what's going on, get a tour, understand it.
A lot of times for us, it's people that are in the city that have never been in a dealership. They've maybe driven by or seen it, but they're going, "I wonder what the heck happens there." Then they realize they want to be a service technician because they like solving problems, but they still don't know what's going on in the front door. Walk in the front door, start asking some questions. Everyone in this industry is going to share their story. It's the way this has been for- Be the same, be careful doing it, but if you really wanted to get into farm work, you could probably go to the coffee shop and start asking some farmers for their story. I'm going to guess, they're going to tell you some of it. It's going to be that, first and foremost.
I think the second thing is to really do your research on these companies, especially if you're looking to get into the dealerships and that kind of thing. You've got independence, you've got large-scale dealers, midscale dealers, you got different types of equipment, from construction to ag, you've got automotive groups that are out there, trucks. The wealth is really there. Then even some of the contractors are hiring their own mechanics these days too.
The wealth of knowledge there, you get got to figure out where you're going to fit in. Am I interested in this type of work or that? You can do a lot of that online. Check out these companies' websites, look at their LinkedIn pages and the review sites that are out there. Figure out the culture of the company you want to be at. I play a little bit of favorites, I'm on team green for good reason. The ultimate thing is that there's different stuff for different people and you want to find that fit. You don't want to just get a job, you need a career, a passion and, quite frankly, a vocation, something you love doing every day.
Then the last thing is, if you're really serious about it, you got to find out what support they have. Especially for young people or people changing their career, we've got programs. Most of these industries today have some program to support talent in their efforts to get into the industry. That could be educational funding, internship experiences, job shadowing, all of that stuff that can give you that jump start from joining the business as a high schooler, seeing what's going on and then getting that company to help support you through your education is really important and key.
Tony: That last one there leads me right into my last question for you, Andy. What are some resources? Where can people go to find some of these careers or these jobs? Where can they go, who can they talk to?
Andy: The best way to do it is, if you're on LinkedIn in or if you're on the company's Facebook page, just shoot a generic question in, "Hey, I'm interested in it," and you're going to get pointed to the right person to catch them on the phone or via an email conversation to start the gateway to that. If you're interested, you can always follow RDO Big Andy on Instagram, and I would certainly answer questions and point you in the right direction across the entire world. We've got folks that I get reached out to all the time with people, just random questions about, hey, this or that. I'm more than willing to answer those for you.
There's not a single person that wouldn't help you find that. Just ask one question and let it lead to another. I think the biggest thing is, you got to just be willing to take the first step of putting yourself out there a little bit and asking the question of, "I'm interested, can you tell me more?" Nobody's offended if it's not what you want, but they will be offended if you never asked a question because you're not going to find the success that you're looking for doing that.
Tony: Yes, that goes to say with anything in life, ask the question, you're never going to know if you don't ask the question. Thank you very much, RDO Big Andy, for taking the time to sit down and talk with me a little bit about the recruiting industry or the recruiting outlook and how it's changed over time. Thanks for doing this.
Andy: My pleasure. It's been an absolute awesome time. I've been a long time listener, first time caller. I always wanted to say that on the radio, I get to say it today.
Tony: Hey, there you go. Take a moment to subscribe to this show and share us with your friends. We are on many different platforms, such as Apple Podcast, Google Podcast. We are on Stitcher, Overcast, SoundCloud, and many others. Please drop us a review, we'd love to hear what you think about the show. Don't forget to follow RDO Equipment Company on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and catch all of our latest videos on YouTube. You can also follow me on Twitter @rdotonyk.
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