Equipment vendors are leaning into AI to train technicians, fill gaps and increase efficiency amid a labor shortage that continues to plague the industry.
While legislation like the Community College Agriculture Advancement Act of 2023 could open the door for more technician training, AI can help new technicians gain knowledge that would otherwise come through experience, Wayne Fischer, director of parts service and technology at Montana-based equipment vendor Torgerson’s, told Equipment Finance News.
Equipment manufacturers, including CASE IH, Caterpillar, John Deere, New Holland and Volvo, offer extended service contracts and warranties, prompting the need for technicians. Many equipment OEMs, including Caterpillar and John Deere, finance those service contracts.
AI “is a way to streamline [training],” Fischer said. “Once a tech has five, six years of experience under his belt, he’s self-sufficient, but we’re seeing more people come into our industry that don’t know farm equipment. We have to start pulling employees from the automotive world, the truck world or the work truck world. We’re bringing in more employees that don’t have that intimate knowledge and we’ve got to get them spooled up quicker.”
Torgerson’s uses the AGvisorPRO visorPro AI system, for example, to train new technicians faster and supplement the experience they lack by using AI to provide responses to service-related questions and pinpoint pages in the service manual to find answers, Fischer said.
While the system focuses on converting service technician manuals into useable question-and-answer databases for vendors, in the future the AGvisorPro’s visorPro system will provide more AI support to vendors, Brock Moir, chief product officer at AGvisorPro, told EFN.
“Right now, the technician finds answers in manuals, but this time next year, we’ll have figured out how the dealerships are going to put in all their proprietary data, emails and texts and have this internal institutional knowledge for each dealership,” he said.
Ten vendors use visorPro across North America, with Torgerson’s representing the first United States vendor to use the platform, Moir said. Each vendor’s AI hub operates independently to protect proprietary information, he said.
Technician labor concerns
Through AI, equipment vendors can increase the effectiveness of their technicians at a time when filling roles remains difficult.
The civilian labor force participation rate sat at 62.8% in August, down 50 basis points compared with the February 2020 pre-pandemic benchmark, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). While the labor participation rate is up 20 basis points since March, there isn’t enough labor to meet industry demand.
The number of heavy vehicle and mobile equipment service technicians and mechanics employed by 2032 is expected to hit 247,000, an increase of 5.5% from 2022’s employment numbers, according to BLS. Farm equipment mechanics and service technicians employed by 2032 is expected to be 49,300 people, an increase of 3.7% compared with numbers from 2022.
AI helps supplement the investment that vendors make into technicians, Fischer said.
“When employee retention was easier, if it took us two years to get somebody spooled up, he said. “It was worth the investment because we were going to have them for the next 15 years. But now with employee turnover, we’ve got to get them spooled up within six months because we may only have them five years.”
The use of AI also presents a retention and recruitment tool for vendors since the more tech-savvy technicians now prefer it over paper manuals, AGvisorPro’s Moir said.
“When you put a system in front of them that’s clunky and terrible to use, that becomes a retention issue and they’re wondering why they’re using this old system that doesn’t work very well,” he said. “When you start putting more innovation in front of them, putting more forward-facing solutions in front of them, it helps you retain, train and attract more talent for your organization that you couldn’t otherwise attract.”