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College, Ironpeddlers Work to Close Operator Shortfall

Thu August 06, 2020 - Southeast Edition #17

Due to the largesse of The Ironpeddlers, the Monroe, N.C.-based equipment and parts dealer, SPCC can train students more effectively because of a loan of small excavators manufactured by SANY and sold at the dealership.
Due to the largesse of The Ironpeddlers, the Monroe, N.C.-based equipment and parts dealer, SPCC can train students more effectively because of a loan of small excavators manufactured by SANY and sold at the dealership.

For several years, construction companies of all sizes have been faced with a pronounced shortage of people looking to work in the building trade, including folks to operate heavy machinery.

In many cases, job seekers are unaware of the salaries and benefits construction careers can provide them — if they possess the necessary skills.

At the same time, technical schools and community colleges across the country have long known that by partnering with heavy construction equipment makers and dealers, they can produce skilled — and marketable — people for careers in the building industry.

The key has always been to make that three-party connection between builders, tech schools and adult students.

Monroe Partnership Developed

In Monroe, N.C., just to the east of Charlotte, South Piedmont Community College (SPCC) is the latest in a line of technical schools to offer a curriculum to train students in the use of construction equipment.

Beginning July 14, the college's Heavy Equipment Operator Academy is offering the first of three operations courses, each designed to train adult students at gradually higher operator skill levels. SPCC's program teaches its students to be proficient in working on any construction project that requires moving and transporting heavy materials, or that demands any kind of earthmoving.

And due to the largesse of The Ironpeddlers, the Monroe-based equipment and parts dealer, SPCC can train students more effectively because of a loan of small excavators manufactured by SANY and sold at the dealership. The company has provided a pair of SANY SY50 excavators for use in the school's training program.

"In working with a lot of our customers, there was a constant search for good, trained equipment operators," said Paul Stokey, chief financial officer at The Ironpeddlers. "That's how the partnership was formed, out of a need from our customers."

His colleague at Ironpeddlers, Ron Kinney, explained further:

"We know our larger contractors and customers are struggling to fill positions for operators," he elaborated. "They see something like this as a good opportunity to find qualified employees. The construction business is still very strong, but they're having a hard time filling the operating seats of heavy equipment. And the recruitment class coming up is looking thin too. Many people who had been doing those jobs have moved to others positions within the companies, but the new recruits are proving hard to come by."

Classroom, Hands-On Learning

Included in the SPCC courses are hands-on lab times operating SANY's mini-excavators and similar equipment at both the SPCC Tyson Family Center for Technology, and on-site at the Monroe location of The Ironpeddlers. Additionally, Monroe-based homebuilder True Homes has loaned raw property to SPCC on which students can practice using the equipment.

By completing the three-level course successfully, students at SPCC can become certified as a Heavy Equipment Operator by the National Center for Construction Education & Research (NCCER).

The first Level I course is set to be offered Tuesday, Thursday and Friday mornings from July 14 to Sept. 24 (slots in the class were still available as of July 13). Saturday classes run July 18 through Oct. 31.

Class sizes are being limited to 10 students primarily because of the need to social distance during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"This is SPCC's first time doing anything like this and we are very excited about this partnership because of the community need for training in this field," said Maria Lander, SPCC's Dean of the School of Applied Science and Technology. "It has also been wonderful partnering with Ironpeddlers for this program.

"Our [Saturday] class is full, and our weekday classes are half-full so far, so we are very pleased with the response of the community," she continued. "This will lead these students to good jobs in any of the fields that use heavy equipment. The course also covers all the safety, maintenance and features of the equipment available."

In calling around to different Monroe-area construction companies to find someone willing to teach the classes, Lander said she was amazed to learn that each of them expressed a desire to locate and hire people trained to operate heavy equipment skillfully and efficiently.

The result of her efforts led to SPCC so far hiring one new instructor from a contractor in Lancaster, S.C., Lander said, and she is optimistic the college will add more.

"Our plan is also to purchase some equipment simulators, which we are working to do currently, because we want them to be able to learn on those before moving on to the real equipment," she explained. "That may not happen until toward the end of this class, but when we do take possession, they will prove to be very helpful to students."

To learn more or to sign up for the Heavy Equipment Operator Academy at SPCC, visit or call Kristen Griffin at 704/290-5223.

The Ironpeddlers has been serving the construction equipment industry since 1974. It is a dealer of SANY equipment and offers a large selection of used equipment. Among its products and services are new and used equipment sales, equipment rental; new, used and remanufactured parts sales, service and repair, tire sales and service, and hydraulic hoses built on site.

The full-service business has five locations across the Southeast. Besides its Charlotte/Monroe headquarters, it also has offices in Atlanta, Savannah, Greenville, S.C., and London, Ky. The dealership's website is CEG

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