It's All About Training

By Hol Wagner | September 28, 2010


Nationwide shortages of skilled workers are hampering contractors everywhere and often mean companies must resort to the hiring of individuals with no experience in the industry. Obviously, such new hires have to be trained in the job skills they will need to become productive, safe employees. And existing company employees often require new skills that can be most easily imparted through training, either in a classroom or via computer. Industry-specific training has become big business, with operations of all sorts sprouting from coast to coast. In the construction industry, training is generally available from three principal sources: industry associations, equipment manufacturers and distributors, and private companies specializing in training. Most association-sponsored training is under the banner of the National Center for Construction Education and Research, a not-for-profit education foundation formed by associations to develop industry-driven standardized craft training programs with portable credentials. For information on NCCER and its programs, visit

Industry Associations

Nearly all national construction associations provide training of one sort or another at the local chapter level, with membership generally the only requirement for participation. Associated General Contractors and Associated Builders and Contractors are the big names here, offering a variety of topnotch NCCER job skill and safety training to members. Other organizations, too, often provide surprising levels of specialized training for their segments of the industry, National Asphalt Pavement Association, National Ready Mixed Concrete Association, and National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association being in the fore.

In Colorado, for instance, the Colorado Asphalt Pavement Association's Rocky Mountain Asphalt Education Center and Laboratory for Certified Asphalt Technicians (LabCAT) offer specialized training for employees of asphalt paving contractors, and LabCAT recently completed certification of its 2,000th technician. RMAEC recently received a Partnership Award from the Colorado Work Force Development Program for its efforts. RMAEC/LabCAT offerings are regularly listed in Rocky Mountain Construction's calendar of coming events, or they can be viewed at

Wyoming, with its small population and perennial problem of young people leaving the state to find work, is in an unusual position, and the Wyoming Contractors Association (the state AGC chapter) has taken an unprecedented step to address the situation. Through the generosity of its members, particularly that of Nick McMurry, the organization raised the funding several years ago to construct a dedicated 10,000-square-foot training center in Casper on 38 acres of land donated by McMurry. Today, the WCA McMurry Regional Training Center offers training opportunities ranging from accounting to welding.

WCA has a full-time recruiter who assists in placing potential students in classes that will help the students achieve their individual goals. The organization also maintains a list of qualified instructors, all certified to train in their specific fields. Expert training and recruiting, combined with scholarship opportunities and WCA's commitment to the AGC principles of skill, integrity and responsibility allow the McMurry Training Center to provide unexcelled opportunities for those interested in working in any aspect of the construction industry. For additional information, visit

Manufacturers and Distributors

Equipment manufacturers commonly provide both operation and maintenance training focusing on specific models of their equipment, and on the local level, distributors of construction equipment sometimes offer the same training at their locations.

Occasionally, a distributor provides more than just a local presentation of one manufacturer's training courses, and an excellent example is found in Rocky Mountain Construction territory. In September 2001 Wagner Equipment Co., the Colorado and New Mexico dealer for Caterpillar and other equipment lines, created the Wagner Training Institute to combine all types of training under one roof. This "one-stop" training store provides technical (i.e., equipment service) training, computer training and staff development training to Wagner Equipment Co. employees, to customers of the distributor, and to local businesses that can utilize the services offered.

Recognizing the value of training, Wagner but a facility to meet the needs of a growing workforce, opening it in September 2002 at the company's headquarters site at 18000 East Smith Road in Aurora, Colo. The Wagner Training Institute building houses five training rooms and two conference rooms where classes are conducted in a supportive learning environment. Additionally, a state-of-the-art computer lab is housed in the main Wagner Equipment Co. building, with all computer classes conducted there by a certified Microsoft instructor. Further, the same courses — service training, computer and staff development — are offered at Wagner's Albuquerque facility at 4000 Osuna Road NE. The Albuquerque complex includes three training rooms, two conference rooms and a dedicated computer lab with six PCs. Service training is conducted in the shop areas, where students are given first-hand experience in equipment technician responsibilities.

To deliver this training, Wagner Training Institute has a talented and highly motivated staff that includes a department manager, six service training instructors (four in Aurora, two in Albuquerque), two apprentice program coordinators (one at each location), one program development specialist, one computer instructor, a staff development specialist, and a training assistant. Three more instructors are soon to be added.

While Wagner Training Institute does not provide heavy equipment operator training or certification, it does offer training in forklift operation and safety. For equipment operator training, WTI recommends the programs of the Heavy Equipment Training Academy in Julesburg, Colo., phone (970) 474-3686, or Caterpillar Inc. (see Training under Services at

Training Companies

In addition to equipment operator and diesel engine technician programs offered through trade schools and community colleges, the demand for training has resulted, not surprisingly, in the creation of companies that sell training to anyone who wants or needs it.

Need to train a dozer, excavator or grader operator? Consider VISTA Training Inc. of Waterford, Wis. Founded in 1991, VISTA "provides training solutions for people involved in earthmoving, excavating and mining applications. VISTA's strength is high-quality, focused safety and skills training programs targeting heavy equipment operators and mine industry employees."

VISTA offers its training in the form of videos and DVDs that can then be employed individually or in classroom settings. Instructor kits are also available to train the trainers. And for operator training, personal computer-based simulators are available, as well as on-site, hands-on heavy equipment operator training and evaluation. And in keeping with today's need, many of VISTA's products are offered in Spanish as well as English. For more information, VISTA Training can be reached by phone at (800) 942-2886, by e-mail at or on the Internet at, where the entire product offering catalog can be accessed.

There's even an organization devoted exclusively to operator and safety training for aerial work platforms: Aerial Work Platform Training Inc., an entity of the International Powered Access Federation. IPAF is a membership organization that promotes the safe and effective use of powered access equipment. Members include manufacturers, distributors and equipment owners, including rental companies. AWPT is the U.S. training arm of the international organization. Its training program for operators of mobile elevating work platforms meets on exceeds an ANSI and OSHA requirements. For further information, visit

As vital as training has become in today's construction industry, it's not surprising that such a broad variety of sources are available, if one just takes the time to seek them out.