Finding and recruiting skilled help has been a persistent challenge for companies in the equipment rental industry in recent years. In the pursuit to remedy this, many rental operators, alongside the American Rental Association (ARA), have identified trade school students as a highly desirable candidate pool for positions in the industry as these learners are developing hands-on skills in disciplines — diesel mechanics, machining and information technology to name just a few — that can apply directly to the operations of a rental house.
Altra Rental & Supply, Ontario, N.Y., stands as an example of a rental company that has adeptly harnessed the talents of trade school students in its operation. The company’s vice president, Judy Fishgold, who also serves on the ARA of New York board of directors, has spearheaded the effort and — seven interns and four hires later — reckons that they have had “a pretty good batting average with it.”
“Altra had utilized our local trade school’s resources in the past, but that was several years before I came on board in early 2017. I saw how difficult it was to find trained employees, especially in the shop and yard, so I wanted to give it a try again,” she says.
“In the past, trade school students that came on board were not taken seriously. The staff would give them housekeeping duties and minor assignments. Now, we have enough people and techs on board that we actually have the time to spend with the students,” she says.
“With everything that we have to offer, we found that this is a great place for them to start. Four years ago, we built on 16,000 more square feet with a state-of-the-art, air-conditioned shop with heated floors, wash bay and service area. Our new facility has helped get students in the door here,” she says.
Like other area employers, Altra Rental & Supply participates in recruitment events hosted by their area trade school, Wayne-Finger Lakes BOCES (Board of Cooperative Extension Services), Newark, N.Y., but it was the building of a good relationship with the school’s business community liaison office and its personnel that had the biggest impact in getting students that are a good match steered toward the company.
“The school has an annual open house that we participate in, but they are also a customer of ours — we provide products for several of their programs, including forestry, welding, diesel mechanics and power mechanics. Getting to know their business community liaison officer also was key in getting interns assigned to and hired in our organization,” Fishgold says.
Altra Rental & Supply takes students on as unpaid interns while they are enrolled in Wayne-Finger Lakes BOCES’s training program with the potential for permanent recruitment afterwards or in temporary jobs during school breaks and the summer months. The arrangement has been mutually beneficial for the student laborers and the rental company in a variety of ways.
“Our interns get real, hands-on experience with a wide variety of equipment and machines, and learn not only about working as a team, but also about repairs, safety, customer service, demonstrations, accountability for check-ins, shipping and receiving, and profitability,” Firshgold says.
“One of the many benefits that we get out of the school’s program is that the students are insured through the school when they are under the school’s unpaid intern program. New York state and OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) laws state that we can’t allow anybody under the age of 18 to operate a skid steer or forklift. But these students are trained and certified to do that and are an exception to the law while insured by the school. So, that’s one of the big perks to it — they can function and learn as a regular shop and yard person and experience the full breadth of the job,” she says.
The employee-centric culture that Altra Rental & Supply adheres to also plays a major role in enticing the intern-employees to remain with the company.
“We find it important at Altra to take good care of our people,” Fishgold says. “We provide lunch for all our employees every Friday, year-round. If it is your birthday, you get to pick the menu that week. We also believe in promoting from within — one of our senior counter people started as a shop and yard attendant. The sky is the limit here.”
Four years in, Altra Rental & Supply has staffed diesel mechanic, technician, shop and yard attendant positions through the trade school. The marriage of trades education and rental store duties has proven to be harmonious for alumni of the Wayne-Finger Lakes BOCES program like Donavan Bruni, who now serves as a technician and diesel mechanic at Altra.
“Being able to immediately use the technical skills I learned at Wayne-Finger Lakes BOCES was a good choice for me,” Bruni says. “With a growing rental company and with all the rental equipment, I get to work on a wide variety of machines. Every day is a challenge and interesting,” Bruni says.
Ultimately, the success of Altra Rental & Supply’s trade student initiative is in the numbers: Since partnering with Wayne-Finger Lakes BOCES in 2017, the company has onboarded seven employees through internships or referrals from the program, four of which they have retained as of Summer 2021. This is no small feat “considering there has not been an internship program since COVID hit in February 2020. It’s a great program, and we feel it has been very successful for us,” Fishgold says.