Madison Area Technical College and Waukesha County Technical College in Wisconsin have found mutual benefits from a partnership between a truck driving program and a diesel equipment technology program.
Trucking is one of the fastest-growing industries in the United States. The American Trucking Association estimates a shortage of 48,000 truck drivers and projects there will be 175,000 vacancies by 2024. In addition, all areas of the diesel industry are experiencing a lack of qualified technicians.
To help meet industry demand, Madison College offers a two-year associate degree program for diesel mechanics. WCTC trains truck drivers through a 10-week technical diploma program offered year-round in daytime, evening and weekend formats. The college owns a fleet of 19 tractor-trailers for training purposes.
Driving creates lessons for both
Instructors from both programs met at an industry event in 2008 and realized they could help each other and their students. Since then, Madison College students have maintained and repaired the tractor trailers used by WCTC students. Prior to the agreement, the diesel technician students practiced their repair skills on a few older-model trucks with worn-out parts. The teaching aids didn’t provide them with experience working on trucks with normal wear and tear.
“Those trucks just sit on a lot; they don’t go out on the road,” said Tom Wozniak, a Madison College instructor. Vehicles used by WCTC student drivers, on the other hand, go through many tests and are driven about 15,000 to 20,000 miles per year. WCTC truck-driving students practice safe stopping skills that are a true test of what a truck can withstand.
“A truck tractor/trailer combination can potentially haul 80,000 pounds down the highway. It is essential that the combination stop safely,” said Aaron Dix, another diesel technology instructor.
At least once a year the trucks travel to Madison College for required routine maintenance, brake and clutch replacements, and major engine overhauls.
Keeping up with technology
In the past, groups of Madison College students were assigned to work on one truck. Now, teams of two work on one late-model truck using new parts. In a true test of their diagnostic skills, the student mechanics get more hands-on time dealing with usual and unusual problems.
“We are able to expose them to different truck manufacturers,” Dix said. “Students become familiar with the software and diagnostics of each one. That is essential to our industry.”
The arrangement also allows students to work on new technology such as diesel engines with advanced after-treatment systems that meet strict EPA mandates and engines that run on compressed natural gas.
Serving a real customer
The diesel tech program starts with a 100-hour preventive maintenance class. Madison College students inspect the tractor-trailer systems including the drivetrain, brake components and engine systems. They identify immediate and potential problems and perform minor repairs.
Other first-year classes include electrical/electronic systems, drivetrains, brake, steering and suspension systems. Second-year students take engine technology and repair, heating ventilation, air conditioning, and a specific course designed to develop diagnostic strategies on all systems.
In addition, diesel students learn soft skills such as writing clear, concise work orders. Instructors teach workplace safety standards and hold students accountable if something is not done properly, so they learn from their mistakes.
To assure that curriculum keeps up with industry standards and demands, Madison College’s diesel tech program faculty works with an advisory committee of more than 30 local businesses and industry partners throughout the state. The students also complete 432 hours as paid interns with one of the partners to gain more hands-on, real-world experience.
Second-year student Keenan White has been working as a mechanic for InterCon Construction since October making a full-time wage. “This program offers an opportunity to have a real-life shop experience,” White said.
Savings add up
Matt Eisert, lead instructor for the WCTC truck driving program, estimates the average labor cost for diesel technician work is between $98 and $120 per hour. While Madison College students gain valuable experience, WCTC saves an estimated $25,000 to $60,000 in labor costs and parts price mark-up each year.
The savings allows WCTC to purchase more new trucks, enough to keep them in rotation to the Madison College shop for needed maintenance.
“This is a fantastic arrangement where two colleges can collaborate and fill each other’s needs,” Wozniak said.