One of the first people to contact me as I settled into the editor's chair was Richard Wanta, the proactive executive director of the Wisconsin Underground Contractors Association (WUCA). WUCA holds a strong commitment to safety and safety training. About 30 to 40 safety experts from member companies and some insurance companies meet monthly to share best practices and help each other keep improving their companies' safety programs.
In addition, WUCA offers training in competency for trenching and excavation, trench rescue techniques, confined-space safety, and CPR/first aid. These classes are valuable not only for anyone who works with trenches or excavations — but also for fire and rescue teams that would respond to a trench accident.
The training is available to members and non-members alike for a modest tuition.
To help make training more convenient and cost-effective, WUCA will travel anywhere in Wisconsin for group training sessions, and has invested in a trailer equipped with the tools and materials to put on trenching seminars at remote locations.
WUCA also encourages safety among its members by annually honoring those who have achieved outstanding safety records during the year, classified by the number of man hours worked.
The honorees for 2006 were recognized at a recent safety committee meeting:
- Under 50,000 man hours — ZBD Utility Construction; Hawk Construction, LLC; Herr Directional Drilling, LLC.
- 50,000 to 100,000 man hours — Wondra Excavating, Inc.
- 100,000 to 200,000 man hours — Wanasek Corp.
- 200,000 to 300,000 man hours — Henshue Construction, Inc.
- More than 300,000 man hours — Intercon Construction, Inc.
WUCA's safety committee also addresses general safety issues and trends. For example, one recent meeting featured a presentation by a physician covering pre-employment drug testing, random employee drug testing and fitness-for-duty examinations. The discussion covered the Wisconsin law that requires random testing of people doing work for municipalities, the need for certified labs to do the testing and the effectiveness of the types of tests used in random testing.
On issues other than safety, WUCA works just as diligently to improve the industry and its segment of the industry's position.
To affect large-scale issues, such as legislation governing the industry and ways to prevent damage to underground infrastructure, WUCA often works both alone and with other industry organizations such as the Wisconsin Common Ground Alliance, whose goal is ensuring public safety, environmental protection and integrity of services.
This kind of right-in-the-trenches advocacy, action and leadership is among the things that make the overall construction industry stronger and better each day.
Caterpillar distributor Fabco Equipment, Inc., whose territory covers all of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan, has shown the same kind of spirited innovation in addressing the growing need to develop skilled service technicians for its 23 locations from Milwaukee to Superior and La Crosse to Marquette.
Thinking creatively, Fabco has partnered with Fox Valley Technical College (FVTC), headquartered in Appleton, to create Fabtech, a service technician education center located at the FVTC campus in Oshkosh.
In mid-February, Fabco and FVTC broke ground for the 12,800-square-foot facility that will house the program. It is scheduled for completion in August.
The FVTC Foundation will own the building.
Fabtech will offer a series of courses focused on developing certified service technicians for Caterpillar engines, construction equipment, electric power generation, and marine engines. The partnership features hands-on training from experienced FVTC instructors supplemented with expert Fabco Caterpillar technical trainers.
Students will work on current-model Caterpillar equipment, engines and generators using the latest tools and advanced diagnostic technology. Credits earned in the program can be applied toward an associate of applied science degree.
Fabco Manager of Human Resources Bob Bailey says that Fabco's goal is to attract students from communities throughout Wisconsin and Upper Michigan, and that earning certification in the program will prepare students to return home and pursue career opportunities at Fabco locations throughout the region in as little as 12 months.
Uniforms, tools and course materials will be provided as part of the training. Dormitory housing and meal program options are available through the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. Financial aid is available, and there are also financial assistance incentives for top performing students.
FVTC President Dr. David Buettner indicated that FVTC is equally excited about Fabtech, which will welcome its first class in late August. Said Dr. Buettner, "FVTC is honored to partner with Fabco and Caterpillar to bring state-of-the-art service technician training to the region. The Fabtech Education Center will strengthen our ability to respond to industry needs through innovation."
For more information about Fabtech or enrollment opportunities, visit www.fabco.com.
In the few short months I've been back in close touch with the construction industry, I can already see that it continues to meet ongoing challenges with the ingenuity and can-do spirit I remember so well.