FLORENCE, S.C. -- The Caterpillar Dealer Academy at Florence-Darlington Technical College is expanding teaching space and class sizes.
Next fall semester, the academy will grow from a 15-student capacity to a 30-student capacity.
“We need more students, and the locations need more technicians,” said Stephen Murphy, director of the academy.
While enrolled in the program, students receive instruction at the college as well as internship experience at one of the area Caterpillar dealers. Students spend approximately half of their time at the college and the other half in paid internships.
This Caterpillar ThinkBIG program is one of 21 programs worldwide. It is operated in cooperation with Caterpillar Inc., local Caterpillar dealerships and hosted by Florence-Darlington Technical College.
At the end of two years, students will have an associate’s degree and experience. Cultivating a relationship with area dealerships is a critical component of the program, Murphy said.
“Because that student is hired initially, we have time to build our culture, so that includes things like safety, our expectations, how to take care of customers,” Murphy said. “We can start that early and then as they come up to graduation, then we have the chance to retain them in our dealerships.”
Murphy said students could pay for living expenses out of their internship earnings.
“That’s a game changer if you manage your money well,” Murphy said.
Since there are only 21 schools that offer a similar program, the college’s ThinkBIG program often brings in students from outside the Pee Dee, Murphy said.
The college also recently has expanded its classroom space for the program by renovating former automotive instruction spaces.
Instructors teach with a systems-based approach. For example, students disassemble and assemble an engine.
“The reason for doing a systems approach is that no matter what changes in the future, they have a solid foundation,” Murphy said. “So, electrical works the same way in 1900 as it does today. It’s going to be the same in 2020 because those fundamentals don’t change.”
Murphy said fundamentals are the core of the curriculum, because those things never change. However, he said, instructors will weave in new products as they can. The college has a combination of older equipment that students can take apart and newer equipment to gently use.
“Equipment-wise, something that’s unique to the program is that Caterpillar does donate engines and machines for testing, but we also have an exchange program with each of our dealers,” Murphy said. “CAT allows the dealer to take 10 months interest free on that machine for inventory support. It will stay here for five months, so we get a brand-new piece of equipment.”
Currently, there are two instructors for the program. Murphy said there should be four instructors by the fall of 2019.