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Nature of the Work
* Skill in using computerized diagnostic equipment is becoming more important.
* Opportunities should be best for persons who complete post secondary programs in farm equipment or diesel mechanics.
* Jobs are concentrated in small towns and rural areas.
Today's farms use more sophisticated equipment and advanced business practices than ever before. They have become largeralthough fewer in numberallowing the economical use of specialized farm equipment to continually increase crop yields even while employing fewer and fewer workers. Specialized farm machinery has grown in size, complexity, and variety, and does everything from tilling the land to milking the cows. To operate efficiently, many farms have several tractors equipped with 40- to 400-horsepower engines. Planters, tillers, manure spreaders, and spray and irrigation equipment help grow the crops and combines, hay balers, swathers, and crop drying equipment aid in harvesting them.
Farm equipment dealers employ farm equipment mechanics, often called service technicians, to service, maintain, and repair farm equipment as well as smaller lawn and garden tractors sold to suburban homeowners. What was typically a handy-man's job around the farm has evolved into a highly demanded technical career. Farmers have increasingly turned to farm equipment dealers to service and repair their equipment because the machinery has grown in complexity. Modern equipment uses more electronics and hydraulics making it difficult to perform repairs without some advanced training.
Mechanics work mostly on equipment brought into the shop for repair and adjustment. During planting and harvesting seasons, they may travel to farms to make emergency repairs to minimize delays in farm operations.
Mechanics also perform preventive maintenance on older equipment. Periodically, they test, adjust, clean, and tune engines to keep them in proper working order. The level of service is determined by the difficulty of the problem. In large shops, mechanics generally specialize in certain types of work, such as diesel engine overhaul, hydraulic maintenance, or clutch and transmission repair. Others specialize in certain repairs, such as air-conditioning units often included to cool the cabs of combines and large tractors, or the repair of specific types of equipment such as hay balers. In addition, some mechanics assemble new machinery, do body work, and repair dented or torn sheet metal on tractors or other machinery.
Mechanics use many basic handtools, including wrenches, pliers, hammers, and screwdrivers. They also use precision equipment, such as micrometers and torque wrenches, and use welding equipment and power tools to repair broken parts. Increasingly, computerized engine testing equipment, such as dynamometers, engine analysis units, and compression testers are used to measure engine performance and find worn piston rings or leaking cylinder valves. Soon, mechanics will have access to computerized diagnostic equipment to monitor and locate malfunctions without turning a wrench.
New technology allows farmers to achieve record crop yields from small plots of their land by more precisely tailoring their tillage to accommodate the soil conditions of each. This growing use of site-specific technology, or precision farming, as it is known, makes use of the Global Positioning System (GPS), yield monitors, and variable rate applicators. These computerized systems link the farmer to satellites and other advanced devices to better monitor their crops and land use. More often than not, farmers rely on their equipment dealer to be their one stop for all repair needs. To better satisfy customer needs, traditional repair shops have begun to service advanced equipment, requiring the mechanic to acquire new skills.
Generally, farm equipment mechanics work indoors though some do repairs on the farms. Most modern farm equipment mechanics work in well ventilated, lighted, and heated repair shops, but older shops may not offer these amenities. Farm equipment mechanics handle greasy and dirty parts and may stand or lie in awkward positions to repair vehicles and equipment. They often lift heavy parts and tools and handle various agricultural chemicals and solutions. Minor cuts, burns, and bruises are common, but serious accidents can be avoided when the shop is kept clean and orderly and safety practices observed.
As with most agricultural occupations, the hours of work for farm equipment mechanics vary according to the season of the year. During the busy planting and harvesting seasons, mechanics often work 6 or 7 days a week, 10 to 12 hours daily. In slow winter months, however, mechanics may work fewer than 40 hours a week.
Farm equipment mechanics held about 44,000 jobs in 1996. Most mechanics work in service departments of farm equipment dealers. Others worked in independent repair shops, and in shops on large farms. Most farm equipment mechanics worked in small repair shops. Nearly 1 out of 10 farm equipment mechanics was self-employed.
Because nearly every area of the United States has some form of farming, it is common to find farm equipment mechanics employed throughout the country. Employment is concentrated in small cities and towns, making this an attractive career choice for people who wish to live away from the big city. However, many mechanics work in the rural fringes of metropolitan areas, so farm equipment mechanics who prefer the conveniences of city life need not live in rural areas.
With the development of more complex farm machinery, technical training has become more important. Employers prefer to hire trainee farm equipment mechanics who have completed a 1- or 2-year post-secondary training program in agricultural or farm mechanics at a vocational school or community college. However, if these programs are not offered, study of diesel or gasoline mechanics offers a strong background. Mechanics also need a knowledge of electronics, hydraulics, computers, and must have the aptitude to read circuit diagrams and blueprints in order to make complex repairs to electrical systems.
Most farm equipment mechanics enter the occupation as trainees and become proficient in their trade by assisting experienced mechanics. The length of training varies with the helper's aptitude and prior experience. Usually, 2 years of on-the-job training is necessary for a mechanic to do routine types of repair work efficiently. Highly specialized repair and overhaul jobs usually require additional training.
Many farm equipment mechanics enter this occupation through careers in related occupations. For example, they may have experience working as diesel mechanics, mobile heavy equipment mechanics, or automotive mechanics. Prior experience in farm work will also provide a foundation of the skills and training necessary to become a farm equipment mechanic because farm workers typically make minor equipment repairs to save repair costs. Similarly, people with military backgrounds in mechanics have valuable experience and training. Persons who enter from related occupations may start as trainees or helpers, however, they may require less on-the-job training.
Employers look for skilled individuals with the aptitude needed to handle tools and equipment. Occasionally, strength is required to lift, move, or hold heavy parts in place. Difficult repair jobs require problem-solving skills to diagnose the source of the machine's malfunction and choose the correct course of action to fix the problem. The importance of computer skills will increase as many more dealers gain access to computerized diagnostic equipment on a laptop computer. This technology will allow mechanics to simply plug into the farm equipment and have a complete diagnostic check done by pushing a button. Experienced mechanics should be able to work independently with minimal supervision.
Keeping abreast of changes in farm equipment technology requires careful study of service manuals and analysis of complex diagrams. Many farm equipment mechanics and trainees receive refresher training in short-term programs conducted by farm equipment manufacturers. This is the dealers way of keeping its employees trained in the latest concepts and standards within the industry. A company service representative explains the design, function, and techniques required to repair and maintain new models of farm equipment. In addition, some dealers may send employees to local vocational schools that hold special week-long classes in subjects such as air-conditioning repair or hydraulics. Satellite and video taped training courses have become an increasingly popular way to standardize training techniques and to cut expenses needed to reach individual dealers and repair shops.
Key to the mechanic's livelihood is their personal tools. Farm equipment mechanics usually buy their own handtools, although employers furnish power tools and computerized test equipment. Trainee mechanics are expected to accumulate their own tools as they gain experience. Experienced mechanics have thousands of dollars invested in their tools.
Farm equipment mechanics may advance to shop supervisor, service manager, or manager of a farm equipment dealership. Some mechanics open their own repair shops or invest in franchised dealers. A few farm equipment mechanics with strong customer service backgrounds advance to service representatives for farm equipment manufacturers.
Because farms use fewer, but more efficient and reliable, pieces of equipment, employment of farm equipment mechanics should decrease through the year 2006. Most job openings will arise from the need to replace experienced mechanics who retire. However, opportunities should be good for persons who have completed formal training in farm equipment repair or diesel mechanics.
The continued consolidation of farmland into fewer and larger farms and the use of new farming practices means farmers will need smaller stock of equipment. They will also be more able to invest in new, efficient and specialized equipment, allowing farmers to till greater acreage more productively and profitably. For example, new planting equipment uses electronics to spread seeds more uniformly, and electronic controls help harvesters reduce waste.
Farm machinery is expensive and usually designed and manufactured to withstand many years of rugged use. Nevertheless, it requires periodic service and repairs. New farm equipment has longer intervals between service but because of its increased complexity, many farmers will continue to rely on mechanics for service and repairs. For example, many newer tractors have large, electronically controlled engines, and air-conditioned cabs, and feature advanced transmissions with many speeds, equipment characteristics that farmers usually cannot repair themselves.
Sales of smaller lawn and garden equipment constitute a growing share of the business of most farm equipment dealers. Most large manufacturers of farm equipment now offer a line of smaller tractors to sell through their established dealerships. However, this equipment is designed for easy home service and only requires a mechanic when major repairs are needed.
The agricultural equipment industry experiences periodic declinesmostly in sales. Layoffs of mechanics, however, are uncommon because farmers often elect to repair old equipment rather than purchase new equipment.
Farm equipment mechanics had median weekly earnings of about $418 in 1996. The middle 50 percent earned between $312 and $613 a week. The lowest paid 10 percent earned less than $256 a week, and the top 10 percent earned over $780 a week. Most farm equipment mechanics also have the opportunity to work overtime during the planting and harvesting seasons, which generally pays time and one-half.
Very few farm equipment mechanics belong to labor unions, but those who do are members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers; the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America; and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
Details about work opportunities may be obtained from local farm equipment dealers and local offices of the State employment service. For general information about the occupation, write to:
Equipment Manufacturers Institute, 10 South Riverside Plaza, Room 1220, Chicago, IL 60606.
North American Equipment Dealers Association, 10877 Watson Rd., St. Louis, MO 63127.
John Deere and Co., John Deere Rd., Moline, IL 61265.
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