Instructor teaches aptitude and attitude for high-tech agriculture

Photo of Pete Hoffman

Pete Hoffman

Southwest Wisconsin Technical College

Agriculture Power Equipment Instructor

Agriculture Power Equipment

When Pete Hoffman’s high school guidance counselor asked him what he was going to do after graduation, he didn’t have a clue.

The guidance counselor looked at Hoffman’s aptitude test scores and told him they pointed to agricultural mechanics. So he enrolled in the program at Southwest Wisconsin Technical College (SWTC). After completing his degree, Hoffman worked at several ag equipment dealerships, had his own shop for a while, then went back to a dealership as service manager.

"Someone brought in a piece of equipment as a trade-in," Hoffman recalls. "When the boss found out how much it would cost to recondition that equipment for resale he was shocked." Then, Hoffman came up with a cost-saving idea.

He called one of his instructors at SWTC and asked if students could do the job as a class project. "Sure, bring it over," the instructor answered. "But you’ll have to come with it because I am retiring." It was a quick decision, but one Hoffman has never regretted. He’s continued teaching since that invitation in 1992.

"Today, tractors have complex electrical systems, hydraulics and computers," Hoffman explains. "Tractors have up to 12 computers controlling various functions. All of these systems interact with each other as well as communicate with some of the equipment they pull through the field. So electrical understanding is important as well as computer programming."

Technology isn’t the only thing Hoffman teaches his students. They need to have customer service skills as well. Hoffman wants students to understand what farmers are dealing with.

"I challenge my students by asking them what the corn price is today," he says. "Prices affect spending on equipment. Last year the price was $7 per bushel. This year it is only $4."

He explains how timing is important to farmers. If harvesting equipment fails during the harvest, it could cause the farmer to loose part of his crop. "If the hay gets too dry, they have to buy protein. You’re going to cost them more if you don’t get the repairs done quickly."

Because of his experience, Hoffman knows what employers want from graduates. They are looking for individuals who want to continue to learn and understand concepts. "They value attitude more than aptitude," he says. "They are looking for someone with an attitude that matches the rest of the shop."

Hoffman works on developing that attitude. "I enjoy what I do. I like watching students grow into a career I love. I see the excitement when they catch a concept and can apply it."