One of the quickest paths to unemployment as a heavy equipment operator is to be involved in an accident on the job. Unfortunately, not all heavy equipment operator training programs are created equal. Many provide certification after only a few weeks of training, leaving graduates underequipped to succeed in the risky world of equipment operation.
The International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) offers a different heavy equipment training model: a three to four year, paid apprenticeship program that combines classroom instruction with on-the-job training.
IUOE has 95 apprenticeship and training programs across the United States and Canada, with over a thousand instructors. A core curriculum is used, and a number of written and hands-on assessments are conducted to ensure that students have acquired the necessary knowledge and training.
According to IUOE.org, apprentices may participate in volunteer service projects as part of their heavy equipment operator training, such as building a neighborhood baseball diamond. This creative approach allows students to give back to their community, “while giving apprentices useful practice for working on a real job.”
Local 450 in Dayton, TX near Houston admits students to its apprenticeship program twice a year: Spring and Fall. According to Local 450, apprentices can expect to earn $12.51-19.37/hr while in the program. Their only expenses are $100.80/year to Houston Community College (participants earn 6 hours of college credit each year through the program) and $6.25/week to Local 450, payable only after the 1,000-hour probationary period has elapsed.
Local 450 apprentices commit themselves to a list of responsibilities, including developing and practicing safe working habits, being awake and alert, and submitting to regular drug testing. The program has a zero tolerance drug policy.
The logic behind the apprenticeship program is this: “The IUOE…is convinced that having qualified safety orientated operators is the key to bringing construction workers home each night safely to their families and loved ones and the most cost effective way of doing business for the construction industry.”
Photo via Flickr CC, courtesy of Thompson Rivers.