Construction Schools Train Future Industry Operators

With the recent opening of its fifth construction college, the National Association of Heavy Equipment Training Schools continues to make headway on its mission to create quality standards for heavy equipment training schools. All five NAHETS member schools certify students in the operation of various types of construction equipment, from backhoes to 30-ton rough-terrain cranes. The schools also provide additional training in rigging, safety, and construction math, among other topics.

NAHETS member schools offer crane operator training courses, which will soon be necessary to help fill the decreasing population of qualified crane operators. If OSHA releases its revised regulation for cranes and derricks in construction in October, which calls for nationwide certification of crane operators, it may be a challenge for the industry to maintain its number of skilled operators.

“The need for qualified crane operators is significant now, and if OSHA pushes this mandate through, I feel the demand will increase by 50 percent,” said Jerry McGinnis, president of the Oklahoma College of Construction, a NAHETS member school. “There are many aging, experienced crane operators that will not be able to pass the CCO exam. Many will not be willing to pursue additional training and will retire or take on other duties. As we have experienced with some companies, there is a lack of knowledge from the top to the bottom on how to safely operate a crane. Many of the new or younger operators have not been trained properly or were trained by others who were lacking in safe lifting practices. This, combined with an upcoming 12-year surge in commercial construction, will create an unprecedented need in journey-level craftsmen in all crafts.”

The NAHETS crane operator program length is dependent upon an individual's prior work and educational experience. The schools offer training programs for inexperienced students as well as experienced operators who only need certification. Program length varies from as short as three weeks to as long as 12 weeks.

The association schools serve as national testing centers for the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators. “Most states require NCCCO at a minimum; New York requires NCCCO and then a separate N.Y. certification,” said Darrell Woodrum, president of the Georgia School of Construction. “Currently, 80 percent of our graduates pass the NCCCO written and practical exam the first time.”

The organization's philosophy is to provide information from a variety of sources, such as textbooks, classroom training, videos, and hands-on, in-the-seat operator training, to deliver the training. “Our students tend to be kinesthetic/tactile/visual and relate to this type of content,” said Matt Klabacka, executive director of NAHETS. NAHETS's Yellow Metal Boot Camp is an innovative training program to supplement classroom training, in which students participate in hands-on training. The NAHETS website, www.nahets.com, is filled with videos and graphics, placing emphasis on the association's stance on multimedia learning and attracting what Klabacka calls today's YouTube youth.

“With more than a million new jobs available by 2012, our industry is booming, yet the workforce is continually shrinking with the retirement of baby-boomers,” Klabacka said. “The resultant market supply and demand for operators will continue to create pressure, which will help to ensure that these will be higher paying jobs which will have good benefits. This type of work has great appeal to young people who are often not traditional learners. Many people simply aren't aware that heavy equipment operator training is available.”

According to Klabacka, interest levels in heavy equipment operations and the trades has been waning since the early 1980s. Career and community colleges and unions have historically provided the breeding grounds for trade vocational training and apprenticeship programs including heavy equipment operator training. In the early 1980s, many of these training institutions switched into the white-collar training areas of business: medical, legal, IT, and computer-related training. Klabacka said that the industry has to adapt to the communication tools of today's youth or miss out on opportunities to communicate with them. NAHETS has several media outlets that concentrate on the younger generation of potential operators. Yellow Metal TV, for example, is a television show broadcast online that covers the latest products, news, information and industry trends. The association also has a blog and a spot on YouTube where it posts equipment and training videos.

Founded in 2006, NAHETS approves heavy equipment operator training schools throughout the United States by examining specific criteria in areas such as heavy equipment safety, graduate career resource centers, job placement assistance and heavy equipment operations. Five NAHETS member schools are in operation, including the Nevada School of Construction in Las Vegas; Oklahoma College of Construction in Oklahoma City, Okla.; Georgia School of Construction in Conyers, Ga.; Southern California College of Construction in San Bernardino, Calif.; and the Northern California College of Construction in Stockton, Calif.

Klabacka said that approximately 1,500 graduates receive certification from the schools each year. NAHETS member schools join local and regional associations and contribute heavy equipment operators to a myriad of companies. Graduates of NAHETS schools are encouraged to seek employment with union and non-union employers. The bottom line is that NAHETS graduates are trained to work where ever they are qualified, Klabacka said.

NAHETS belongs to several industry organizations, such as Specialized Carriers and Rigging Association, National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators and National Center for Construction Education and Research.