Diesel Power Instructor Loves Fixing Things
Brad Spates put his first piston in an engine when he was 11 years old, working with his father on their farm. Now he and his dad restore old tractors together.
A local Caterpillar dealer recruited Spates right out of high school after he won a VICA (Vocational Industrial Clubs of America now known as SkillsUSA) contest and $3,000 worth of tools. He worked on construction equipment for five years then became a field technician working on diesel engines in everything from wood chippers to Navy ships.
“I was always very interested in diesel engines,” Spates stated.
Next Spates started working on alternative fuel power generation plants using methane gas or biogas fuel. This type of equipment needs a lot of maintenance and the demand for skilled technicians has grown along with the industry.
In 2011 the opportunity came along to teach at Fox Valley Technical College and Spates became an instructor in a unique training program called FABTECH providing technicians for Fabick Caterpillar, his former employer. It is a one-year technical diploma program with the first semester covering basics, second semester gets into engines and then students decide between construction equipment and power generation equipment. Spates describes the program as a “year long job interview.”
“They recruit the students and provide the equipment,” Spates explained. “There is no obligation, but for the past eight years Fabick made job offers to 100 percent of our graduates.”
Students respect Spates’ knowledge and experience. He tells lots of stories from the field.
“As I walk around the shop to observe they know when I give them a certain look that they are doing something wrong,” he said. “But they also know I expect them to figure out what they are doing wrong and then correct it.”
As for hobbies, Spates enjoys boating and snowmobiling with his family. “You gotta have more toys to fix,” he said. You can also find him working on his neighbors’ farm equipment when he has the time.