Partnership provides heavy-equipment training, 15 recently graduate
Demand for skilled heavy-equipment operators is increasing in step with an improving economy, just as Idaho's economy turns around, but the pool of experienced operators keeps shrinking each day as the Baby Boomer retirement wave sweeps scores of workers and decades of knowledge out of the workforce.
To combat this skills drain, the Idaho Transportation Department's (ITD) Office of Civil Rights applied for and successfully secured a $120,000 grant from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) for On-the-Job Training Support Services.
"ITD created this program because we noticed a trend of contractors needing skilled employees, but local training opportunities were few and far between," explained Russ Rivera, contract compliance officer for ITD. "Rather than send trainees out-of-state, we partnered with a local technical school and the AGC to create a program that could offer nationally recognized training and certification, while providing training closer to home."
ITD's Office of Civil Rights, the Kootenai Technical Education Campus (KTEC), the Associated General Contractors (AGC) and Idaho Native American tribes forged the unique partnership intended to "provide contractors with skilled employees, and provide free technical training for underserved or underrepresented populations."
Recently, 15 men and women from Idaho were trained on the KTEC campus near Rathdrum. Students learned basic operation and maintenance of heavy highway-construction equipment. Training participants also earned CPR, First Aid, OSHA 10, Flagger and Forklift certifications.
"Local and out-of-state contractors are very excited about the program, and nearly 40 percent of our program participants have already been offered trainee positions upon graduation," Rivera said. "Coming from areas where unemployment is often as high as 50 percent, this training is a life-changing opportunity for participants."
Rivera said that while this training effort was a pilot program, there are hopes to expand the program to other trades, based on contractor need, while benefitting populations such as disabled veterans, single mothers and refugee populations.
"Our goal with this program is to expand and partner with other organizations to help provide technical training in heavy highway construction for disabled veterans, and other groups that might benefit from it," he said, adding that five other states have expressed interest in building similar programs.
Upon graduation from the program, ITD will help market trainees' skills. Some proactive employers have already signed agreements and guaranteed employment to successful graduates.