As a young technician, Tom Billigen was filmed for a recruitment video about the power equipment industry. Working on an engine, he looked into the camera and said, “Some of my friends have jobs, but this is a career.” He was right — and it’s been a very good career so far.
“I’m only 36, but I’ve got almost 21 years’ experience in this industry already,” he adds. As training manager at Briggs & Stratton Corp. in Milwaukee, Billigen understands both the education side and the corporate perspective on needing to fill the technician pipeline.
“We have a lot of turnover on technicians,” he says. “They’re getting up in age where they’re retiring. So, there is a huge void in technicians to work on the products we have and continued effort to get young people to consider this career.”
On the corporate side, Billigen focuses on dealer technicians, providing hands-on and online training for the nearly 15,000 Briggs & Stratton locations worldwide. On the education side, he also oversees training for technical educators.
“We offer up to six classes throughout the summer for new instructors, giving them a crash course in everything they need to know about small engines and how to teach it,” he explains.
Billigen meets the nation’s top Power Equipment Technology students at the SkillsUSA Championships. As chairman of the contest technical committee, he is both a strategist and a problem solver. Committee members plan in February for the June event, developing the testing curriculum for 10 work stations. “We had 53 competitors last year, and they rotated stations every half hour,” he says.
For Billigen, involved since 2004, the competition is a family affair. His wife, Megan (pictured with him), attends to handle contest logistics, scoring and paperwork. “I fell in love with the SkillsUSA program and what it does for students,” she says. Married eight years, the couple has two young daughters.
Tom Billigen says the best technicians have good math skills, can read and understand technical manuals and know computers. His advice is simple: “Gain as much knowledge as you can, wherever you can. Working with a local dealership is your best opportunity.”
He keeps SkillsUSA in front of dealers at events, opening lines of communication between the top three contestants’ schools and nearby Briggs & Stratton locations.
“SkillsUSA is our best avenue for helping dealers recognize that there are skilled workers right in their backyard,” Billigen says. “We see the top students every year and try to consider where we can fit them into our organization.”