In the mid-90's, two Michigan CAT employees, Kevin DeVries and Ron Dehaan, joined the advisory committee for Careerline Tech Center's Diesel/Heavy Equipment Mechanics (HEM) program, lending their professional knowledge and expertise to program instructors as they developed coursework. Little did they know that they were setting the stage for a partnership that has lasted more than 20 years and has provided numerous benefits to both Michigan CAT employees and to Careerline Tech Center students and alumni.

The hands-on learning experiences CTC students receive in the operation, maintenance, and overhaul of diesel-powered equipment focuses on everything from engine theory to electrical and hydraulic systems, and provides them with the necessary skills to excel in advanced training programs after high school. And the partnership with Michigan CAT plays a large role in students’ success.

Kevin Wiersma has been a Diesel/HEM program instructor at CTC for nearly 30 years and can’t say enough good things about the long-time partnership with Michigan CAT. 

“One benefit our students receive, thanks to our partnership, is the ability to get first-hand experience with machinery currently used in the field and a leg up on other job applicants upon graduation. Michigan CAT has a history of donating equipment for our use that would be cost prohibitive for Tech to purchase,” says Kevin. 
 
Another of the partnership payoffs is the opportunity extended to students by Michigan CAT to participate in the Caterpillar ThinkBIG Technician Education program. ThinkBIG is a training program developed by Caterpillar out of a need for qualified Service Technicians. Interested Diesel/HEM students apply and interview for the program during their senior year at CTC. Upon successful completion of the Diesel/HEM program, students selected to enter the two-year ThinkBIG program receive an Associate Degree in Heavy Equipment Technology through Owens Community College in Toledo, Ohio and are eligible to have nearly all tuition reimbursed, depending upon their grades.
 
Many students involved in the ThinkBIG program return to the CTC Diesel/HEM classroom to demonstrate their news skills and act as mentors. This allows current CTC students to envision their own potential for success and become inspired to apply for the ThinkBIG program as well. 

Two former CTC students and Hudsonville High graduates who participated in the ThinkBig program are eager to talk about their experiences afforded to them through this partnership. 

Colton Brinks, says CTC gave him a great foundation for college classes. “I felt prepared and ahead of the game when I arrived at Owens, which was a great feeling.”

Nate Schipper, who also enrolled at Owens Community College through ThinkBIG, says he is excited for potential job opportunities at Michigan CAT upon completion of the program. 

To date, dozens of students who have completed the Diesel/HEM program have participated in ThinkBIG and secured jobs with Michigan CAT, including some who are currently serving in management positions.

Michigan CAT Human Resources Manager Yvonne Boyer says she’s impressed with the quality of skills students acquire while at CTC. 

"Careerline Tech Center students receive excellent instruction and develop a strong work ethic that provides them with the necessary skills to be outstanding and successful participants in our ThinkBIG program, and in turn, become successful and valuable employees to Michigan CAT and other employers as well," says Yvonne.

“The partnership with Michigan CAT is mutually beneficial,” says Jason Alberda, diesel/heavy equipment mechanics instructor for CTC. “We are able to give these students a first-rate education and training thanks to their donations, and CTC can provide Michigan CAT with potential future employees who will excel in their work environment.”

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