September 21, 2023

Signing ceremonies highlight diesel education, student commitment

Careers in Agriculture

As a former high school soccer coach, Todd Crowley (left), corporate service manager at Prairie State Tractor, saw many of his players sign commitments to attend colleges and universities. Those signing ceremonies gave Crowley the idea to do the same thing for high school seniors who qualify for and commit to Prairie State’s diesel tech sponsorship program. Levi Nodine (center), who graduated from Woodland High School in Streator in May, was featured in a signing ceremony, with his mother, Brandi Clift.

DIXON, Ill. — As a former high school soccer coach and current fan of professional sports, Todd Crowley has seen a lot of signing ceremonies, when athletes, from the high school level to the NBA and NFL, officially sign a commitment to attend a college or university to play their chosen sport or to play for a professional team.

“I loved going to them because it is such an awesome feeling. We had signings and the students and their parents would come in and everybody made a big deal about it and that was exciting,” Crowley said.

So, when he became corporate service manager at Prairie State Tractor, Crowley wanted to keep the good vibes going.

Through its Tech Student Program, the company recruits and sponsors students from area high schools and career centers. Students apply and go through an interview process. If selected, they agree to attend a diesel mechanics/technology program at one of several community colleges.

After successful completion of the program, the student receives tuition reimbursement, a toolbox and set of tools and agrees to work for Prairie State Tractor for four years.

Through the sponsorship program, students apply for the program and go through an interview process. When a student is selected for the program, that’s when the hoopla happens.

“I wanted to celebrate these kids. I talk about our draft pick and why we drafted them and then we do a signing. It’s been a big hit,” Crowley said.

Prairie State has agreements with Black Hawk College in Kewanee, Illinois Central College in Peoria, Kishwaukee College in Malta, Lake Land College in Mattoon, Lincoln Land College in Springfield and Parkland College in Champaign.

Students attend the college’s diesel mechanics/technology program or the John Deere TECH Program at Lake Land College.

Crowley, Brett Dewey, aftermarket manager, and Matt Holland, marketing manager, are often on the road during the school year, talking about the program and diesel technology education to students at high schools throughout northern and north-central Illinois.

The Tech Student Program has been in place for just over a year.

“The big picture is that we are trying to get kids excited for ag mechanics and diesel technology. We go to a lot of schools and talk to them and most of the kids have never been exposed to this before,” Crowley said.

“They don’t realize the opportunity they have to get such a good job, as well as to not have any debt coming out of college,” Dewey said.

The Prairie State Tractor representatives also want to boost interest to help address an industry-wide shortage of diesel technicians.

“There is such a huge demand for them and everybody is concerned that we are not going to have enough qualified people to fill those positions,” Crowley said.

But it’s not just putting bodies into jobs. Finding the students who are the right fit for the program and for Prairie State Tractor is a big part of Crowley’s mission.

Part of the agreement is that, when they graduate, the student will work for Prairie State Tractor for four years. So, Crowley is seeking students who also will be good employees and coworkers.

“We are talking about finding these kids and recruiting them. And it is a little bit of a marriage. You have to have adjustments both ways to meet each other’s needs,” Crowley said.

“We are looking for long-term people. We are not just grabbing any student and throwing them into this program. They have to align with our value system.”

Crowley said that value system is communicated to students throughout the application and interview process. He and others who select students look for traits that will make a good employee.

“We can make technicians out of anybody, but if you are not a good person, it doesn’t really line up with our culture,” he said.

Communication skills are vital and something he stresses to students, as something that is vital to Prairie State’s customer service mission.

“That is what I see lacking with a lot of students. I will email them a question or text them a question and it might take them a week to get back to me. Once you get to the real world, you have to be pretty efficient,” Crowley said.

Jeannine Otto

Jeannine Otto

Field Editor