AASHTO Journal, 10 July 2015
A pilot program co-sponsored by the Idaho Transportation Department recently graduated 15 heavy equipment operators from an in-state specialty training course, aided by a $120,000 grant from the Federal Highway Administration.
The ITD said its Office of Civil Rights secured the FHWA grant for on-the-job training support services, to help combat a “skills drain” for those types of workers.
“Demand for skilled heavy-equipment operators is increasing in step with an improving economy just as Idaho’s economy turns around,” the ITD announcement said, “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.”
The state agency’s Office of Civil Rights partnered with the Kootenai Technical Education Campus (KTEC), Associated General Contractors and Idaho Native American tribes to “provide contractors with skilled employees, and provide free technical training for under-served or under-represented populations,” the ITD said.
Russ Rivera, the ITD contract compliance officer, said the agency “created this program because we noticed a trend of contractors needing skilled employees, but local training opportunities were few and far between. 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.”
During June, 15 Idaho men and women trained on the KTEC campus near Rathdrum, learning basic operation and maintenance of heavy highway construction equipment. As part of that course, participants can also earn forklift, flagger and first-aid certifications. That first class graduated June 30.
“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.”
ITD will also help market trainees’ skills, but said some employers have signed agreements to guarantee employment to program graduates.
Rivera said while this was a pilot program, officials hope to expand the effort to other trades based on contractor need, while benefiting disadvantaged populations such as disabled veterans, single mothers and refugees.
“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