Training Program Develops Ohio’s Top Construction Workers

Sat July 03, 2004 - Midwest Edition

According to James H. Gardner, business manager of the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE), Local 18, “the skills required today in this industry are changing faster than ever before.”

Serving the needs of Ohio Operating Engineers for 64 years and covering 85 counties in Ohio and four counties in Northern Kentucky, Local 18 has evolved along with the industry.

The goal, however, remains grounded in its founding principles of providing support, unity and leadership within the heavy/highway and utility industry in Ohio.

The governing body that administers the Ohio Operating Engineers Apprenticeship & Training Program is made up of ten trustees. Five are employer trustees. Of this group, four are appointed by the OCA and one appointed by AGC. The remaining five are union trustees appointed by IUOE Local 18. The Apprenticeship Program has been in place since 1965.

There are four Training Centers throughout Ohio, the Cygnet Training Center located about 10 miles south of Bowling Green; the Logan Training Center in Logan, Ohio; the Miamisburg Training Center, located south of Dayton; and the Richfield Training Center located between Cleveland and Akron.

The apprenticeship program trains 50 to 100 men and women in classroom instruction and field training at each of the four locations.

The initial application process is held for two weeks during the first part of each year and is comprised of preliminary testing. Top scoring candidates are then selected to proceed to an interview stage. From this group, applicants are chosen to enter a 120 hour pre-apprenticeship orientation.

Requirements for graduation from the four-year program include a minimum of 640 hours of classroom and related instruction, a minimum of 4,000 employment hours as well as passing marks on written and machine performance testing.

The Operating Engineers training facilities also train Journeypersons interested in gaining additional training or learning new skills.

The centers offer courses in Grader I & II, Automated Control Systems, Lasers, Plan Reading, Crane I & II, Tower Crane, Certification for Crane Operators (CCO), CCO Refresher Courses, CCO Practical Exams, Advanced Rigging, Directional Drilling, a Pipeline Class, Asphalt Paving, Forklift, Welding, CDL Training, Safety Training, Mine Safety (MSHA), MSHA Refresher, Hazmat and Hazmat Refresher, First Aid/CPR, Trench Safety & Excavation, a Steward Class and Labor History.

Fred Woods, regional coordinator, oversees operations at the Richfield Training Center. Woods, a 25-year veteran operator, acts as coach, teacher and principal to those enrolled in the apprenticeship program –– and he occasionally serves as the maintenance man for the facility, as well.

Woods noted that contractors are looking for 19-year-old workers with 20 years experience and added that the apprenticeship program comes close to delivering.

The Richfield Training Center is bordered on one side by the Mount Augustine Sisters of Charity Regional Health Center from whom they recently acquired an additional 42 acres of land.

Woods explained that they work hard to maintain a friendly relationship with the Sisters and their other neighbors. Originally, the land for the Richfield Center was acquired from the federal government –– a plot of 400 acres that was once part of a military tank testing site.

The same attributes that made the location ideal for putting tanks through their paces, with its rough terrain and rolling hills, also makes it ideal for construction training.

The balance of the land went to the towns of Hinckley and Richfield and in a gesture of good will, the Operating Engineers Training Facility constructed Rising Valley Park with roadways, sports fields and parking.

Woods said that their efforts in contributing to the surrounding communities have paid off time and again. During a recent visit by President George W. Bush, in which he delivered a speech on job creation, the level of cooperation from the towns of Hinckley and Richfield was outstanding. The Sisters of Mercy even pitched in by volunteering its grounds for spill over parking for the event.

Another example of community service is provided in the programs approach toward trench safety and excavation. The Center frequently invites emergency medical response personnel to trench excavation demonstrations in an effort to encourage them to call on the experts in such emergencies.

They have also participated in automobile crash training for firemen and paramedics. Junk cars are brought in and, using the center’s heavy equipment, are rolled over so emergency response crews can practice with the jaws of life.

On June 19 to 27, The Operating Engineers training facility was involved with a special exhibition of the Big Machines at the Great Lakes Science Center in downtown Cleveland.

While much of the equipment used for training is leased from government surplus, the program will occasionally purchase or rent equipment from local dealers such as Southeastern, Ohio CAT, Columbus Equipment, Gibson Machinery and RECO Equipment. These dealers also have provided equipment for demonstrations.

In addition, the program has an excellent relationship with Trimble. Woods remarked that Trimble will loan them, or even give them, equipment that keeps the program up on the latest technology. In return, the program provides field testing on Trimble’s new products.

While equipment is occasionally rotated among the four training centers, doing so with the tower crane that stands high above the Richfield facility is impossible. The crane is an integral part of the program and is also used in a cooperative effort with the Iron Workers Apprenticeship Program.

The Richfield training center features a building that houses six classrooms, a computer lab and a lunchroom. A 6,450 sq. ft. shop includes two full-size work bays, oil storage, parts storage, restrooms with a shower and a 10 ton overhead crane.

An on-site all-weather training building can accommodate up to six pieces of equipment simultaneously and is equipped with carbon monoxide detectors and a large exhaust system.

Outside of the all-weather building is a permanent concrete forklift training and testing area and there is plenty of land left over for earth moving, slope work and trenching.

Woods and the rest of the trainers at the Richfield training center get their greatest sense of satisfaction from sending their apprentices off to a job. Often, they will stop in on a new apprentice’s first day at a job site to check in and show a familiar face.

Although all of the apprentices and journeypersons may be out working, the construction season is no time to relax at the training centers. Summer is the time when the trainers get trained, when they hone their skills on new developments and machines as well as their teaching techniques.

According to Woods, the apprenticeship program provides an invaluable service. In Ohio, unions do 90 percent of all the jobs over $10 million. The apprenticeship and training program ensures that those jobs are accomplished with the highest level of skill available.