Teenagers in Backhoes Compete in Rodeo — and for Jobs

Tue May 18, 2004 - National Edition

SUFFOLK, NJ (AP) Call it a macho job fair.

Students from the Pruden Center for Industry and Technology competed in a heavy- equipment rodeo April 30, maneuvering 8,000-lb. backhoes the best way they know how for a group of judges who might offer something better than trophies — a job.

“This is where they get to show us what’s really important, and that’s a knack for equipment,” Barry Hoy, the training director at the Virginia Beach construction firm E.V. Williams Inc., said of the teenagers, who are judged on speed, dexterity and efficiency in operating the huge machines essential to many construction sites.

Skills tested include dropping a 6-in. long pin at the end of a chain into a 2-in. wide hole, maneuvering the machine with a shovel at one end and a scoop on the other through an obstacle course and using the shovel to pull the backhoe.

The contestants are students from the vocational school’s heavy equipment program, and the judges are mostly representatives of local public works departments or construction firms, teacher Ken Southard said. Some of them are looking to hire.

All events are timed, with penalties assessed for spilling gravel, hitting an orange cone on the course or being slow to get the dangling pin into the hole.

“I got frustrated, ” said Carlton Frost, a Nansemond River High School junior, after finally getting the pin in the hole. “It was a relief when I finally got it in there.”

The skills tested are typical of the daily duties of a construction worker.

“It’s kind of intimidating. You don’t want to mess up,” said Adam Sulin, 19, of Windsor High School. Sulin has already landed a job in concrete with E.V. Williams.

Hoy said he’s hired several Pruden Center graduates in the past few years, and judging the competition helps him gauge upcoming talent for possible openings.

It also gives the students something to look forward to, Southard said.

“It gives them a chance for stardom,” he said.