A better-trained workforce

By |  July 10, 2015

A number of aggregate producers, manufacturers and allied trade representatives say a shortage of heavy equipment operators is plighting the aggregates and mining industries.

Despite the shortage, more students have been graduating from mining schools with mining or engineering degrees, according to the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration (SME).

Not only are people graduating with more knowledge on the industry, some are developing unique equipment experiences. Both Caterpillar and John Deere shared with Pit & Quarry how they have been supplying simulation technology to technical schools, universities and the military to train people interested in aggregates, mining and construction how to operate equipment before entering the field. This has been an ongoing innovation with both companies for a few years.

“Students can try the equipment safely with no danger of getting anyone hurt, and [they] can’t damage the equipment,” says Les Whaley, Simformotion account manager for Caterpillar. “There’s also fuel savings to training this way since there’s no idle time, it’s accessible to students 24/7 and it doesn’t matter what the weather’s like. We try to produce operators who are not only safe to their own standards, but safe to jobsite standards.”

Neither Caterpillar nor John Deere advocate that training students on simulators can replace real-time experience at a quarry or mine, but representatives from both say it significantly boosts the learning curve. Jandi Ludin, senior instructional designer and developer of simulators with John Deere, says simulator training equips future heavy equipment operators with general knowledge on machinery in a risk-free environment.

“These should never replace real training, but they do train hand-eye coordination and basic information on the machinery,” she says. “That way, you don’t see new operators getting into a real cab who are too scared to try things.”

She adds that simulators save on fuel. Training new operators on actual machinery increases idle time as new operators fumble to learn the controls.

Although this training won’t increase the number of people entering the aggregates industry on its own, it can create a more prepared workforce.

“This training absolutely creates a better-trained workforce,” Whaley says. “It’s a total body experience we want to give students, much like they’d have on actual equipment at the quarry. We never promote they only get trained on simulators, but we stress that it shortens their learning time when they get hired.”

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