Caterpillar Invests in Youth as Long-Term Business Strategy

February 10, 2015

Like many American manufacturers, Caterpillar is faced with the challenge of developing a strong workforce in a 21st century global economy. Due in large part to a resurgence of U.S. manufacturing, coupled with a high rate of skilled workers retiring, 82% of domestic manufacturers are facing a skills gap - and Caterpillar is no exception. Caterpillar’s Leadership and Technical Development Program (LTDP) is one of the strategies Caterpillar is using to fill its shortage of skilled workers.

Twice a year, a promising group of recent college graduates are hired into the LTDP with the unique opportunity to launch their manufacturing and supply chain careers with the company. LTDPs are recruited for exhibiting exceptional leadership skills and experience in specific technical backgrounds.  Over a three year period, program participants are exposed to different parts of the business across the United States, either by function or by facility, from re-manufacturing to components to finished products.

The focus of the LTDP program is not just the short-term goal of filling an immediate job. Caterpillar is aware of the need to think strategically about the future. The LTDP is part of a greater pipeline strategy to bring a diverse group of young talent into the organization and build the company’s foundational capabilities.

The program is paying off in several ways. It’s attracting top talent, infusing the company at all levels with fresh ideas, and building the pipeline for future leaders. 

Caterpillar partners with various educational and professional organizations to establish competencies and influence development paths, even before a hiring decision is made, to ensure the external talent pool is robust. Over time, this will provide Caterpillar with a healthy pipeline of future leaders. We make sure we are seeding, nurturing, and developing the talent pipeline so we have a healthy company 10, 20 years from now.

The participants are given value-added work with different business units and are exposed to multiple opportunities, cultures, and locations. The roles are highly visible and, because of that, participants are able to build a significant network and receive coaching and mentoring critical to furthering their careers.

Participants are given a different rotational assignment and location each year. This provides experience in a variety of functional areas of the organization. The program is paying off in several ways. It’s attracting top talent, infusing the company at all levels with fresh ideas, and building the pipeline for future leaders. 

Since the participants come in as a group, it allows us to create metrics around their performance and contributions in ways that provide telling guidance for other populations. Since 2000, nearly 500 individuals have graduated the program and today many are senior leaders in the company. The success of the program has led to efforts to expand the number of programs and participants brought in each year.

The manufacturing and supply chain program offers five designated development tracks:

Regardless of the track, the LTDP builds Caterpillar’s foundational capabilities by intentionally developing future leaders, assuring we have the right people at the right time.

On February 26, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation will release a white paper titled, "Making Youth Employment Work: Essential Elements for a Successful Strategy" at the National Opportunity Summit in Washington, DC. Learn more here.


Gina Vassallo is capability building manager at Caterpillar, Inc.

See also:

Investing in Young Adults to Create a 21st Century Talent Pipeline