A new educational program in Yakima, Washington, aims to meet the growing need for agricultural equipment technicians who have the needed skills necessary to operate and repair today’s high-tech equipment.

J.M. Perry Institute building in Yakima, Wash., on April 6, 2016. (TJ Mullinax/Good Fruit Grower)

Perry Technical Institute is offering a 12-month program to teach students to repair farm equipment, including tractors, combines, cultivators, seeders and sprayers. (TJ Mullinax/Good Fruit Grower)

The curriculum for the 12-month program at Perry Technical Institute includes classroom theory and hands-on instruction in hydraulics and implements, fuel and electrical systems, electronics and power train theory.

Students will learn to diagnose and repair a mix of farm equipment, including tractors, combines, cultivators, seeders and sprayers, in preparation for entry-level technician jobs in agriculture or construction.

The need for farm equipment technicians is big, according to John Riel, owner of Burrows Tractor Inc. and a member of the program’s advisory board. Most tractor dealers are looking for at least one or two good technicians, and many farms are looking for a quality technician as well.

“With more automation, mechanization, we need a higher skill set of people coming into our service departments,” he said. And with the high cost of equipment and repair parts, growers want to get equipment fixed “right the first time.”

“The huge amount of dollars we’re spending on training people, you want to make sure you’re training people who will stick around,” he said.

The first class begins in June, with a capacity of 20 students. Jason Lamiquiz, Perry Technical Institute’s associate dean of education, said there are plans for another class next June, once the school has a better gauge of interest and job placement for the first class of students.

Lamiquiz credited the industry with coming forward to express the need, which was confirmed by a survey of key Northwest ag industries, and for working with the school to establish the curriculum.

“There are some manufacturer-supported programs, but for a private institution, we’re going to be one of the few that I’m aware of to be offering an independent program like this, in general ag equipment,” he said.

Riel previously worked with a community college in Washington to establish a similar program, patterned after others in Minnesota and California, but it fizzled when the state cut the funding.

“Hopefully, we’ve picked off what everyone is doing well and works for them to customize to fit a need here,” Riel said. “Not everyone is meant for college. Some are gearheads and they like understanding how things work, and they can make good money. We have techs making $60,000 to $70,000 a year. There’s a decent wage for those people who want to work on it.”

The program has been approved by the Washington State Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board and accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges.

Applications for admission are now being accepted for summer enrollment. For more information, call Perry’s Admissions Office at (509) 453-0374 or toll-free (888) 528-8586. •

– by Shannon Dininny