No matter what color of machinery farmers use, they will need support to minimize downtime, keep equipment running smoothly and maximize productivity.
“You name it, it’s going to have its low day; it’s going to need repairs,” says Anthony Styczinski, service development manager at John Deere.
Dan Schwartzhoff, a sophomore in the John Deere TECH program at Northeast Iowa Community College, wants to play a role in making sure machines, especially as they become more technologically advanced, are in top working order.
Schwartzhoff’s father was also a service technician, spending his time traveling to farms to repair equipment. When it came time for his son to decide on a major, Schwartzhoff was torn between dairy science and the John Deere TECH program. In the end, agricultural machinery won out.
“The John Deere TECH program may not be for everyone, but there are a lot of people who find this kind of learning environment great,” says Schwartzhoff. “I felt it was a good choice for me.”
Agricultural maintenance technicians are trained to work on agricultural machinery and often specialize in applications that operate planters and autonomous tractors.
John Deere Technical Program
The program is best thought of as a two-year diesel technology program that focuses on John Deere equipment, Styczinski says. “The program focuses on diesel engines and fuel systems, powertrain components, electrical and hydraulic systems, heating and air conditioning, and then using our service methodology,” he said. declared.
Students at John Deere partner colleges enroll in the program the same way they would for any other degree. Unlike other degree programs or technical degrees, a John Deere Agricultural Technician completes John Deere-exclusive general education courses and classroom training, earning a true associate’s degree.
Additionally, the John Deere TECH program requires a student to be sponsored by a John Deere dealer where they complete six months of on-the-job training during the two years of program participation. Through this sponsorship, the student builds a relationship that directly aligns them for a career opportunity with the sponsoring dealer upon graduation.
“A lot of dealerships also offer tuition and tool reimbursement,” says Styczinski. “We have students graduating debt-free. They have their toolkit. They have a job. They make a good living right from the start.
Although tuition varies by college, the Northeast Iowa Community College program starts at $16,116 per year (in-state). A set of tools for an entry-level technician can cost between $5,000 and $8,000.
In the classroom
Duane Bouska, a John Deere Technician Instructor at Northeast Iowa Community College since 1997, says students must pass checkpoints to retain their dealer sponsor. Some dealerships require a contract in which students agree to work for that dealership for up to five years after graduation.
Bouska says each program receives a budget to purchase John Deere components, tools and equipment, so students gain experience working on new machines and technology in the classroom to work on at the dealership. Students must also be “Deere Certified.” After students learn the basics in class, they test online with John Deere to prove they know what they’re doing.
“It’s called John Deere University,” says Bouska. “If a new machine is released, students need to know how to operate it, what its features are, and how to diagnose it. John Deere University provides training for John Deere technicians throughout their careers, and we give them a great start with JDU here at school. For students to be considered John Deere TECH graduates, they must complete several required JDU courses.
More than mechanical
A big part of training agricultural technicians involves learning software for John Deere machines. As machines become more advanced, more emphasis is placed on computers running all parts of the machine, and agricultural technicians need to know how to troubleshoot and fix them.
“I started working in a store in 1979,” says Bouska. “Back then, tractors were mechanical and you only fixed mechanical things. Now these pieces of gear are worth half a million dollars and contain a lot of technology, so you’re not only fixing mechanical problems, but also electrical and software problems. When something goes wrong, the person fixing it has to have quite a bit of training.
Bouska conducts certification courses for electrical and hydraulic systems as well as software diagnostics, both of which students practice. John Deere provides equipment for instructors, including new tractors that change every year, so students have the opportunity to practice diagnostics and repairs on the latest models available.
Students take TECH courses one by one. Each course lasts 20 days and is divided into a two-hour lecture and a two-hour lab. As classes transition, Schwartzhoff says whatever is learned in the previous class is developed in the next class.
“We have just started our engine class,” he explains. “For the next 20 days we will both work and learn about engines in the classroom. Then the next class will be fuel systems.
The John Deere TECH program began in 1989 with partnerships in Milford, Nebraska, and Calmar, Iowa. Today, it sponsors 24 schools from Walla Walla, Washington, to Cobleskill, New York, and from Quebec to Saskatchewan in Canada. Between the two countries, about 650 students graduate each year. Styczinski says he’s on an uptrend; they see 5-10% annual growth in the John Deere TECH program.
With over 2,000 John Deere dealerships across the United States and Canada, salaries can vary depending on where the dealership is located. Styczinski says $47,000 as an annual salary is a good estimate of what an entry-level agricultural technician could expect to be paid. This, coupled with competitive benefits, retirement plans like 401Ks, efficiency bonus programs, mentorship programs, career path planning, and the added benefit of potential tuition reimbursement and tools , he says, students could start off on the right foot with the ability to move within job functions.
“You can start as a technician and then move into a service or parts manager role, or even change directions completely and go into sales or IT,” says Styczinski. “There are so many opportunities at a John Deere dealership after completing this program.”