Ask just about any Caterpillar employee what makes Caterpillar equipment unique, and that employee probably will say "quality." Cat's been known for quality in manufacturing for a very long time. But the Fortune 500 company also recognizes quality service is an important part of their value chain. To make sure dealer technicians were trained to provide top-notch customer service, Caterpillar began the "Think Big" partnership with Illinois Central College in May 1998.
As part of the partnership, Caterpillar provided the funding to build a new, fully equipped training center on the ICC campus. While the building was being constructed, students attended classes at Caterpillar's East Peoria facility. In summer 1999, "Think Big" students attended their first classes in the new facility, and in May 2000, seven pilot students graduated from the program.
By any measure, the program is a stunning example of what an industry-community college partnerships can do. The two-year curriculum was developed by a team representing Caterpillar, their dealerships, and the college. This cooperative effort resulted in a program of study that met the real-world needs of both the manufacturer and the dealer, as well as providing the academic rigor required by the State of Illinois for degree programs. Most importantly, the program taught students the skills they needed to be successfully employed at Cat dealerships. It was-and still is-a win-win-win situation.
The program specifically trains students in how to service Caterpillar equipment, using cutting-edge diagnostic and maintenance systems, advanced technologies, and high-tech tools. The unique program combines real-world experience and classroom learning. For each 16-week semester, students spend eight weeks at ICC doing hands-on training and eight weeks on internships. During the internship, students apply what they've learned in the workplace under the guidance of a special mentor.
To participate in the program, students must be sponsored by a Caterpillar dealership. The dealership provides the internship for the student. During this time, the dealership can orient the student to its method of operating, customer service standards, and culture. Then when students complete the program, they not only have the skills they need to succeed, but they also know the expectations, processes, and procedures of their employer. And the dealerships know what kind of employee they're hiring.
Today, Caterpillar continues to support the program by providing the latest Caterpillar equipment for students to work on in labs, donating scholarship money for students, and supporting their internships. Caterpillar professionals also help keep the curriculum up to date and help recruit students into the program.
The program has done well. As of this year, roughly 90 percent of all students completing this program find employment. About 83 percent of them become employed by their sponsors, with the others pursuing careers at other Cat dealers or continuing their education at a four-year college or university. The program has served as a model for 14 other schools-not only in the United States-but in four other countries. The overwhelming success of this program shows what can happen when industry, business, and the community college dare to "Think Big." IBI