Russell McLean, a student from Larimore (North Dakota) High School

From High School to Diesel Technician: A Rapid Journey

Russell McLean accepted into Caterpillar Machinery’s ThinkBIG program, paving the way for a debt-free college plan and a promising career opportunity even before his senior year.

Russell McLean, a student from Larimore (North Dakota) High School, has been accepted into Caterpillar Machinery’s ThinkBIG program. This program aims to train entry-level diesel service technicians for dealerships, including Butler Machinery Co., located in Fargo, North Dakota.

Butler Machinery, a Caterpillar Machinery dealership, has established partnerships with North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton, North Dakota, and Lake Area Technical College in Watertown, South Dakota. The dealership has been actively involved in the ThinkBIG program since 2001.

Additionally, Butler Machinery Co. offers the ButlerMAX program, specifically designed for students interested in working on AGCO equipment, including Fendt and Massey Ferguson tractors, as well as the Ideal combine.

Mike Sanden, the training and development manager at Butler Machinery Co., stated:

“Long ago, Butler recognized the importance of encouraging and attracting young individuals to the diesel industry.”

Caterpillar Machinery, along with several other prominent diesel equipment companies, has established programs for secondary students and collaborated with colleges to offer diesel technician programs. These initiatives aim to train skilled diesel mechanics to work on their products.

Leading Edge Equipment, a John Deere dealership with locations in North Dakota towns like Michigan, Carrington, and Devils Lake, has formed a partnership with NDSCS to offer the John Deere two-year tech-associate of applied science degree program.

Students accepted into the program have the opportunity to apply for scholarships of up to $20,000, generously sponsored by businesses and organizations like Leading Edge Equipment, North Dakota Career Builders, and Pioneer Equipment Dealers Association. Moreover, they benefit from comprehensive hands-on training in the classroom, lab, and shop. Additionally, after graduation, they can receive monthly tuition reimbursement of up to $20,188, as stated on the Leading Edge Equipment website.

Upon successfully completing the John Deere two-year tech-associate program, students are granted the opportunity to join Leading Edge Equipment dealership’s employment team without undergoing an interview process.

Titan Machinery, a global dealership, offers a range of student programs that encompass various skills within their business. The EDGE program allows high school juniors and seniors to work part-time at a Titan dealership while exploring diverse career opportunities. The Service Technician Sponsorship program provides comprehensive academic support, covering tuition, fees, books, and supplies, for a two-year college program, along with a part-time job during their schooling. Similarly, the Parts Sales Sponsorship program offers tuition assistance and part-time jobs to students interested in parts sales. Furthermore, the company provides operations and sales internships at its West Fargo, North Dakota, headquarters, along with programs specifically tailored for younger students, such as Diesel Camps and Takeover School Visits.

During the North Dakota State FFA convention in Fargo in June 2022, McLean discovered the Caterpillar Machinery ThinkBIG program. He picked up a business card from a Butler Machinery Co. representative during a career fair event. The career fair exposed McLean to the diverse range of equipment that Caterpillar Machinery diesel technicians have the opportunity to work on, broadening his perspective on potential career paths.

Russell McLean, a student from Larimore (North Dakota) High School

McLean shared, “At first, I thought I’d work on semis like my dad, with Caterpillar engines. But then I realized there’s a whole world of Caterpillar equipment to explore. I’ve been fascinated by heavy equipment since I was little, playing in the sandbox. Now, I get to ‘play’ with big machines, and it’s incredibly fulfilling,” he added with a smile.

After the FFA convention, McLean wasted no time in contacting the Butler Machinery representative about the ThinkBIG program. He was elated and impressed when the representative got back to him later the same week.

McLean shared:

“The representative wanted to interview me at school, and he made the effort to come all the way from Fargo at 6:30 a.m. for the interview. I took a test, and just two days later, he told me, ‘You’re in for the fall of ’24.'”

In June 2023, McLean’s decision to apply for the ThinkBIG program was reinforced when he participated in a Caterpillar Machinery tour and attended a dinner with company representatives during the FFA Next Gen conference in Raleigh, North Carolina.

During this summer, McLean is taking part in a paid work study program at the Butler Machinery Co. dealership in Grand Forks, North Dakota. In this program, he has the opportunity to job shadow and gain hands-on experience by turning a few wrenches.

On a sunny day in early July, McLean observed a technician troubleshooting an issue with a skid steer bucket that wouldn’t raise and lower correctly. As the technician worked, he took the time to explain the process to McLean, detailing the steps and reasons behind each action. The technician even asked McLean to lend a hand in adjusting some loader parts during the process.

“Whether it’s at the high school or college level, our aim is to bring people into the stores, introduce them to our team and staff, and start building these valuable relationships.”

In the fall of 2024, McLean will embark on his journey of learning technician skills, which he will put into practice in the machinery shop just a few weeks later. The ThinkBIG program is specifically designed to fast-track students like McLean into a rewarding diesel technician career, as Sanden explained.

Sanden emphasized:

“This program is truly home-grown, providing students with not only exposure to the diesel technician industry and valuable education but also immediate familiarity with working in the diesel industry from Day One. Through the ThinkBIG program, they become acquainted with the Butler location, the people working there, the teams, and the tools.”

The ThinkBIG and ButlerMAX programs offer Butler Machinery the perfect opportunity to train individuals in the most effective way for the specific roles they will be undertaking within the company.

According to Sanden, being a diesel technician demands a unique personality and skill set.

“It’s a constantly evolving field, and we are in need of as many diesel technicians as possible,” he emphasized.

McLean, having experienced the benefits of the ThinkBIG program, encourages fellow high school students interested in a diesel technician career to explore this opportunity.

“Take the leap and put yourself out there. I did it, and look at where it has led me,” he said enthusiastically.