About a year after getting his electrical engineering degree from Penn State, Patrick McCurdy landed a job that launched him into the career he had been looking for. He became a bus driver.
But lest you think he squandered his education, you need to know something about this particular bus.
It wasn't for wheeling passengers around city streets, though no doubt McCurdy maneuvered his around some tight corners. His bus was the Phoenix Contact Infomobile, a traveling road show of sorts that contains samples of virtually all the company's products. His job: Drive the bus to various customer locations around the country, demonstrate the products, and help engineers.
That six-month driving assignment was time well spent. Today, nine years after taking the Infomobile on his first ride, McCurdy is a surge-suppression-product specialist at Phoenix Contact. He counts his stint behind the wheel of the bus as a great training period for him. He learned at the same time the engineers he visited learned. "I gained tremendous product knowledge and extensive application experience," he says.
Many companies have excellent training programs that follow separate tracks for employees and customers. Typical employee training involves sending engineers to trade shows, conferences, and in-house classes, and subsidizing course work in colleges and other schools.
Baldor actually went one giant step further, donating $2 million of equipment to help set up The Technology Center at the University of Arkansas. The goal, says Baldor Chairman Rollie Boreham: to educate a new generation of engineers while training existing employees.
Customer training also takes many forms, ranging from seminars that Tyco organizes at customer sites, to Carling Technologies' practice of sending engineers to its customers' dealer shows to demonstrate products.
Still other companies, such as Algor and ANSYS, run extensive customer-training programs over the Internet.
But, Phoenix's Infomobile is unique in that it is a vehicle for training customers and its own engineers simultaneously. And, says McCurdy, it's a great way to see the country!