In the construction industry, training is an important part of the overall equation. Projects cannot be completed without equipment, but equipment cannot be run without operators. For the operators to run the equipment, they must first go through training.
Throughout the United States, there are numerous training schools for this purpose. However, as the equipment in many of them grows outdated, it becomes more difficult to prepare operators for actual work in the field. The International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) is currently working to help correct this problem.
Stephen Brown, IUOE director of construction and training of North America, negotiates “national buying agreements” with various equipment manufacturers. These agreements, which outline that the equipment is to be used for training purposes only, provide the local training centers new, modern machines at a reduced cost for their training efforts.
“Most of the locals have a dues check-off for each individual that’s working,” Brown explained. “That goes back into their training fund, and with that money, they buy equipment for each individual training site. When I sit down and talk with companies, I’m not trying to get them to donate the equipment to us for free. We do have funds, but we would like to buy more than one piece of equipment. Any bit of discount that they can give us is good for us.”
One example is a contract that Brown negotiated with Link-Belt Construction Equipment Company for the supply of mobile cranes to the local training centers across the United States and Canada.
In 2006, this agreement was the foundation for the purchase of three Link-Belt 108H5 lattice boom crawler cranes. These new 50-ton (45.3 t) machines were made available for purchase at a reduced price to the training centers in spite of a robust market where machine availability is very limited.
“It’s extremely expensive,” Brown said, “But overall, in 2005, all of our locals combined spent over $98 million in training. That’s a figure I’m proud to report, because we really are dedicated to training. Safety is our number one issue. A lot of times, when I sit down with the manufacturers that sell this equipment, I kind of push the safety issue, because we want our operators to be the most productive and the safest out there.”
Bill Stramer, vice president of marketing, sales, and customer support of Link-Belt, noted that Brown approached him concerning a national buying agreement that would provide the structure for Link-Belt and the Operating Engineers to work together for the supply of mobile cranes for training centers.
“Considering that they are dedicated to crane safety, and the training of operators is a critical part of safe crane operation, we were anxious to participate,” he said.
In the past year, three of the cranes were purchased by training centers in New York, Kentucky and Indiana.
“The operator’s cab and control layout is similar on all of our Link-Belt crawler cranes,” Stramer said. “If you train an individual on the operation of this compact 50-ton crawler crane, acknowledging that it’s not the same as running a 200-ton or 300-ton machine, you do however teach the fundamentals that can be applied to the safe operation of our other models.”
Bruce Meringola serves as the director of training of the IUOE Local 138 Apprenticeship Training School in Brookhaven, N.Y., which was one of the schools that purchased a Link-Belt crane.
“We had a much older crane,” he said. “It was a 1971 Link-Belt, and it was getting a little long in the tooth. It’s made a big difference for the training. First of all, it’s brought us into the 21st century, with the way that the equipment’s evolved in the operator’s cab. Everybody has to know how to start a computer to actually operate the crane. The controls are different, and it gives them a whole different feel — it gives them a more real-life view of what they’re going to encounter on the job site.”
The crane was delivered and put in service at the school by Transport Equipment Sales in South Kearney, N.J., where Tom Guzzi serves as vice president.
“We were happy to install the machine,” he said. “They had some old equipment there, and it was nice to see a new piece of equipment there to get trained on. It’s great to see how the Operating Engineers and Link-Belt are working together in the interest of safe crane operation.”
Meringola noted that he is pleased that companies are working hand-in-hand with the training schools to make equipment more affordable.
“It helps further the chances of the apprentices to go on to learn,” he said. “It gives us a chance to get more equipment for them. And that’s what makes everything keep going — businesses working together with labor.”
Brown noted that he currently has similar agreements with Manitowoc, CNH America, Caterpillar, John Deere, Morrow Equipment, Trimble and Topcon. More contracts are also currently in the works.
“I really applaud these manufacturers for dealing with us,” he said.
According to Brown, one thing that is a selling point to the manufacturers, beyond safe crane operation, is that if an apprentice or journeyperson is trained on a Link-Belt crane or a Manitowoc crane, once he goes to work for a contractor that is looking into purchasing a new crane, the operator may recommend the model or brand that he trained on.
“In a lot of cases, like with Caterpillar and Deere, they’re running neck and neck as far as quality with their equipment,” he said. “It’s all in the likes of the operator.” CEG