Shifting Gears: Mentoring the Industry’s Next Generation of Heavy Equipment Mechanics

Jessica Claas | Wednesday February 3, 2021

Shifting Gears: Mentoring the Industry’s Next Generation of Heavy Equipment Mechanics

Jessica Claas | Wednesday February 3, 2021

Jackson Lehr has always been interested in diesel mechanics. In August 2020, he enrolled at State Technical College (State Tec in Linn, Missouri where he majored in Heavy Equipment Technology. Marty Vandenburg is a veteran field mechanic with our Springfield, Missouri team who has been keeping our equipment moving since 2002. This past October they were brought together. Both assumed new roles. Marty became a mentor for this young student, something he never expected. And Jackson got the opportunity to work side-by-side with Marty, at a company he admired, well before his graduation date.

State Tech’s curriculum for the Heavy Equipment Mechanic program is unique. During the 18-month course, the students alternate spending eight weeks on campus and eight weeks performing on-the-job training at a company of the student’s choice. For Jackson, there was only one choice – Emery Sapp & Sons. Growing up in the Springfield area, he would see ESS’ equipment all around the region. “I started asking people that work for ESS about the company and they had nothing but phenomenal things to say.” Jackson recalled. “And it turns out – they were right. Choosing to intern with ESS was one of the best decisions I ever made.” But we all know it’s the people that make a company great, and one person stands out to Jackson – Marty Vandenburg.

While Jackson knew ESS was where he wanted to intern, Equipment Manager JP Compton admits “We were a bit skeptical, as this was our first shop intern, and we didn’t know what type of student we’d get.” Because of his knowledge and experience, Marty was chosen to act as a mentor for this young student. Marty’s first reaction was “Oh no! Why me? I’m not a teacher.” But you only have to listen to Jackson describe Marty’s influence to know a teacher is exactly what Marty is.

“Marty has a wealth of knowledge,” says Jackson. “If you don’t know something, just ask and he’ll tell you about it. If you show him the effort and willingness to learn, he will show you exactly what you need to know to perform the task efficiently. If he learned something the hard way, he will teach you the easy way. His guidance has given me insight far beyond what I learn in the classroom.”

There is no doubt that Marty is in fact a genuine mentor. A mentor that has, albeit unintentionally, inspired the next generation to share in his passion for heavy equipment mechanics. With only an 8-week internship under his belt, Jackson shared, “Continuing to work for ESS after my internship is very much what I’m hoping for. I want to know more about how the shop is run, and I want to build a career here.” While State Tech was closed for Christmas Break, Jackson requested to extend his internship by two extra weeks. Marty was happy to oblige.

Witnessing his eagerness to learn and willingness to work hard, Marty speaks about Jackson with the utmost respect. “Jackson ain’t afraid of getting dirty or asking questions. He comes to work pumped every day and is a great help.” Marty is anxious for Jackson to return during his second semester. “I miss sparring and cutting up with Jackson. I got used to having someone younger around who could get into the tight spots of the equipment. He’s about the size of a toothpick, and his young bones can take more punishment than mine can.”

The word legacy was mentioned to Marty, and he shared what it means to him to mentor a young mechanic in the sunset of his career. He admitted that he never really thought of it as his legacy, but he is grateful for the opportunity to pass his trade on to someone else. Someone that will continue to use that skill. “You don’t get to do that in this field too often.” Marty mused. “That is how I learned, and working with Jackson gives me flashbacks to what it was like when I was younger and learning from older mechanics. The shoe is now on the other foot.”

“I couldn’t be happier with Marty and Jackson.” JP said about the pair. “Jackson is so good at absorbing information. Just show him once and he can grasp just about anything. He can also take the crap that is given to him, and that is needed around here. Marty has done a phenomenal job of taking Jackson under his wing. Both of these guys have set the bar high. I have no complaints, and I always have complaints!” chuckled JP. There’s a few of you out there nodding your heads yes to that.

Marty’s legacy as a heavy equipment mechanic will continue through Jackson, as Jackson’s skilled and often greasy hands will continue to service our equipment for years to come.

Gentlemen, we applaud both of you for owning your journey, and making the ESS family proud!

So here’s a closing fun fact. Jackson was only 6 months old when Marty started working for Emery Sapp.