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Heavy Equipment Operation Now a Specialized Education

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Today, education exists largely because of one thing — specialization. Every educational institution has programs and degrees focusing on certain areas of expertise, and these specialized educations allow individuals to excel in their fields of choice, thus helping society as a whole.

Until recently, however, the process of training heavy equipment operators lacked the degree of specialization found in other career-specific training.

Traditionally, individuals who were interested in becoming heavy construction or crane operators would be educated through a non-standardized trial-and-error process of on-the-job training or through a lengthy union apprentice program.

In the past, the few non-union construction schools would train and educate students on the actual process of operating heavy equipment. In general, however, these schools would be deficient in other areas critical to the education of an aspiring construction worker, ultimately leaving the industry with a lack of complete specialization and competency.

That hole is now being filled through the efforts of NAHETS.

The National Association of Heavy Equipment Training Schools (NAHETS) wields innovative educational resources applied to heavy equipment and crane operator training, thus yielding a ''specialized grade'' of heavy equipment training and education resulting in well-rounded entry-level operators ready to contribute to their first and subsequent employers.

Traditional Curriculum

The National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) is a not-for-profit educational foundation created to help address the critical workforce shortage facing the construction industry and to develop industry-driven standardized craft training programs with portable credentials. The mission of NCCER is to build a safe, productive, and sustainable workforce of craft professionals.

All NAHETS member schools are NCCER Accredited Training Sponsors or are Accredited Training Units under the supervision of NAHETS schools that are Accredited Training Sponsors.

NAHETS schools use the NCCER curriculum in heavy equipment and crane training and provide NCCER certification examinations; however, this is only the basis for a unique and specialized NAHETS training curriculum that expands on NCCER groundwork.

The NAHETS Touch

Matt Klabacka, Executive Director of NAHETS, saw a need for greater specialization in the delivery of heavy equipment and crane training. Starting officially in 2005, NAHETS has expanded heavy equipment training curriculum to turn out the most competent entry-level operators in the industry. The Yellow Metal Boot Camp is one of the many great resources that NAHETS has ''unearthed'' so far. The Boot Camp is where the ''technology meets heavy equipment education and training'' curriculum created by NAHETS. Here are some main features:

  • In-Class Instruction. All students spend half of the day in class to learn the ins and outs of heavy equipment training, covering all aspects from safety and operating to reading grades and learning soil types. Each instructor has professional experience and certification.

  • On-the-Site Training. Every day, each student practices operating skills and tasks on the actual equipment. Certified instructors monitor the students and help them achieve their tasks.

  • iPod Video Training. This ''instructor in a pocket'' is the latest of NAHETS’ technology resources. Students are provided with a 4GB Nano Video iPod on their first day of school. They are given access to download private podcasts specific to their training. These videos allow students to see firsthand video footage of each objective they need to complete, as well as extra footage of operating skills above and beyond standard requirements. Instructors walk students through on equipment and ancillary skill videos, the full set of which are produced and released by NAHETS.

  • Simulators. Each NAHETS campus uses Simlog Simulators. Considered one of the more ''fun to use'' tools, they are very beneficial in enhancing operator skills, especially in crane and excavator training. They do not replace, but rather complement, ''seat time'' in the actual machines.

  • Yellow Metal Field Training Manual. This manual, issued to each student, covers each piece of heavy equipment and all essential field skills in a concise list of required drill objectives. These drills are a condensed version the iPod videos. The manual reviews equipment profiles, key items to remember, and operating tasks. The manual also allows students to monitor their training, as they can check off each objective as the instructors approve their completion.

  • Online Tips. Students can also go online and view ''hot tips'' on more technical and difficult maneuvering. They can also view more videos and read more about heavy equipment operating outside of school.
Yellow Metal Boot Camp, as described above, goes beyond traditional heavy equipment training. According to Chris Cannon, NAHETS Director of Training and Curriculum Development, ''Boot Camp gives the student a clear overview of what they are going to accomplish during their field training and where they stand in that process. It sets up realistic expectations for each student and allows a process for those who want to go beyond the basics.'' The use of multimedia resources, such as the iPod and simulators, launches NAHETS students beyond the curve in heavy equipment training.

Safety and Other Training

Safety is a mindset and behavior cultivated and reinforced from the first hour that a student sets foot in a NAHETS school. This safety emphasis is a critical factor of all heavy construction and crane operations and is recognized by employers as an essential element of a professional heavy equipment and crane operator.

Students become educated in other important safety and construction skills relevant to heavy equipment operation, such as CPR and grade reading.

CPR and First Aid Certification. This Red Cross training can save lives on and off construction sites. Each student at NAHETS obtains CPR and first aid certification. This is another skill that attracts employers to NAHETS graduates and adds to heavy equipment specialization.

Grade Reading. Each student becomes versed not just in the industry standard of reading grades, but also in checking and setting grades. This equips NAHETS graduates with a wider range of skills, making them more valuable to employers and better prepared for the job market.

Real On-the-Job Preparation. By attending NAHETS schools, students get a jumpstart on finding a job. NAHETS campuses regularly organize field trips to local jobsites, host visits by employers, and hold job fairs where students learn what it will take to get the job and thrive as heavy equipment operators.

Get the Job

Of course, the purpose of specialization in heavy equipment operating is to be successful as a heavy equipment operator. ''The student is number one,'' says Klabacka, ''and with our high standards, we teach exactly what is needed…in order to go out and get the job as a heavy equipment operator.''

NAHETS does this through professional job placement specialists at each NAHETS campus, as well as through the online resource  YellowMetalUSA, which is the industry’s top job placement website. The placement specialists focus on individual students and do nothing but ''specialize'' in helping each student get the job.

So What?

The National Association of Heavy Equipment Training Schools adds specialization to the heavy equipment training process. Each of the five current member schools does nothing else but heavy equipment education and training — 100% of the time. The student will receive (in addition to basic NCCER certification) NAHETS certification, CPR certification, and, for crane graduates, the opportunity to test for and achieve NCCCO certification (required by 15 states and 6 cities). NAHETS graduates can choose various levels of training (up to three levels for heavy equipment operators, and an additional level for crane operators). All courses are taught by certified, professional instructors supervised by a certified master trainer, all with access to the latest technological resources.

Most importantly, each graduate will be prepared to set the standard in heavy equipment and crane operating.

*Edited by Mike Martens
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