The next issue of Enterprise Minnesota magazine® digs into how the 83-person company has turned a training challenge into a distinct opportunity.
Writer R. C. Drews describes how Akkerman develops and produces high-grade tunneling and boring equipment capable of delivering underground water and sewer lines across hundreds of feet and through complex, developed urban areas. The company’s customers are construction firms that specialize in trenchless underground construction.
Apart from having developed an array of sophisticated equipment, Akkerman’s success depends on skilled operators at the construction companies that use them. That’s a challenge because the construction industry is facing increased turnover and a need for faster and more effective equipment training at greater scale.
So far, Akkerman has used a model in which customers receive on-site training from the company’s traveling technicians before their operators handle new equipment. But President Justin Akkerman admits that an active work location has never been the ideal space to hold class—idling construction bleeds money. He has now come up with a novel strategy for training customers’ operators to use the sophisticated equipment.
In early July, Akkerman began construction on a quarter million-dollar training center. Built something like a raised garden bed, the structure will be divided into three 40-foot-long channels that stand approximately six feet tall and are filled with materials ranging from soil to rocks.
Customers will send their teams to Akkerman to train upon hiring or during down time, reducing losses to delayed work. Akkerman will still send its technicians out on site to help with new equipment as needed, but much of the training can be handled in Brownsdale. “You’re at our facility, you have a lot of resources. You’re not under the gun, on the schedule,” Akkerman explains.
The facility will also enable Akkerman to train its new technicians at home and enhance research and development. In the past, the company has collaborated with clients to schedule time to test new and prototype equipment at active project sites. Real-world testing is informative, but impeding a client’s work can strain relationships. Plus, failed prototypes fail publicly rather than privately.
Akkerman devises a final benefit when clients visiting the Akkerman HQ can view a broad assortment of equipment in use after minimal setup – something Akkerman believes will raise his customers’ product awareness. “I think there’s a better value if we can get our customers at our facility – see our people, see our equipment, interact with everyone,” Akkerman says. “That is money well spent.”
“The concept as a whole is really quite innovative,” says Enterprise Minnesota’s Business Growth Consultant Abbey Hellickson. “It’s such a great way for them to interact with their customers and bring their customers into their facility and engage on a very different level than what they’ve done before.”
For the full story on Akkerman, Inc., check out the next issue of Enterprise Minnesota magazine.®
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