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Published October 25, 2013, 12:00 AM

HIGHER EDUCATION: Diesel tech demand drives major NDSCS expansion

A $10.3 million expansion to Bisek Hall makes it one of the world's largest diesel technician training centers

By: Kris Bevill, Prairie Business Magazine

More than 700 people packed into North Dakota State College of Science’s Bisek Hall in Wahpeton, N.D., on Sept. 20 to celebrate a much-needed expansion to the college’s diesel technology training program.

In his welcome remarks, NDSCS President John Richman noted that the $10.3 million expansion has allowed the college to increase enrollment in the diesel tech program, adding that while the upgraded and expanded facility doesn’t alone determine the quality of education provided through the program, it is a “major factor” in its success. “Ultimately, this celebration is about the expanded capacity NDSCS will have to educate and train future diesel technicians for the state of North Dakota and the upper Midwest,” he said. “This high-tech facility will also allow the college to further utilize technology to enhance our students’ hands-on learning experience on the latest state-of-the-art equipment.”

The expanded facility, now encompassing nearly 125,000 square feet, makes the NDSCS diesel tech facility one of the largest in the country and perhaps the world, according to Barb Bang, dean of technologies and services. “We don’t know of any school that’s even close to us,” she says. “We think we may be the biggest in the world.”

There are currently 251 students enrolled in the school’s two-year diesel technology programs, representing seven states throughout the Midwest. Several associate degree options are offered, including a general diesel tech degree as well as specialty programs including a Caterpillar dealer service technology program, a John Deere service tech program and, new this year, a John Deere construction and forestry tech program and a Case IH tech program.

Representatives from John Deere, Caterpillar, Butler Machinery Co., Titan Machinery and RDO Equipment Co. were among the attendees gathered to celebrate the facility’s grand opening. Richman applauded the companies for collaborating to provide classroom training despite the fact that they regularly compete in the marketplace. Private industry, including small companies as well as program sponsors, provides the vast majority of equipment used in the diesel tech programs, according to Bang. Companies also sponsor and recruit students to the programs to feed their growing need for workers. Job placement rates across all of the college’s diesel tech programs is at or near 100 percent and demand continues to be high for skilled diesel technicians in many industries. Average beginning monthly salaries for diesel technicians graduating from the schools’ programs in the 2011-’12 academic year ranged from $2,763 to $3,607.

Bang says student recruitment is a “critical component” of industry partnerships for the diesel tech programs. Sponsorships typically include some type of financial support, often an agreement for the company to purchase the student’s tools and/or an offer for tuition reimbursement upon graduation and full-time employment with the sponsor. “That’s why it works so beautifully,” she says. “Companies are finding students in those smaller towns and they are employees from day 1.”

John Deere is the diesel tech facility’s longest-running partnership program and has been a sponsor for 20 years, Bang says.

Despite the facility expansion and increased enrollment capabilities, the college was still forced to turn away some students from the general diesel tech program this fall. Diesel technicians are currently in huge demand regionwide due in the surging agriculture, energy and heavy construction industries and Bang says interest in the programs has been increasing as a result. “Diesel is one hot topic on our campus,” she says.

In his remarks during the grand opening, Gov. Jack Dalrymple noted the many job openings for diesel technicians throughout North Dakota alone and said programs such as those offered at NDSCS are “more needed now than ever before in our state, adding, “These are not just jobs. These are careers.” PB

Kris Bevill

Editor, Prairie Business

701-306-8561, kbevill@prairiebizmag.com

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