Realistic Training Prepares Operators For Real-World Projects

Story by Mike Larson, editor. Photos courtesyof IUOE 139 training center. | September 28, 2010

The Wisconsin Operating Engineers' training center in Coloma, WI, aims to make its skill and apprenticeship training for heavy-equipment operators as realistic as possible.

Crane instructor Doug Stegeman, who has been on staff since 1999, says, “Of course we help operators learn and hone the skills required to properly operate machinery, but all of our training is done to a plan, so operators also learn how to apply those skills to real jobsite situations.”

The training center teaches a diverse range of classes covering topics from competent-person training, first aid and OSHA 10-hour training, to grade setting, excavating, earthmoving, directional boring, pipeline training, asphalt paving, telehandler operation, dozer operation, motor grader operation, crane operation, and several others.

All of the classes are conducted on the site and last from one day to three weeks, depending on the topic. CPR and First Aid classes, for example, last one day. The nine-hour welding class takes three days. Advanced grade setting is a one-week class. Basic excavating lasts two weeks. And national pipelinetraining is a three-week course.

Facility Serves Operators From All Across The State

The training center is operated by the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 139, which includes union-member heavy-equipment operators throughout all of Wisconsin.

Apprentices need to train there for 160 hours during their first year, plus 160 hours in their second year, and 80 hours during their third year.

The training center also serves journeyman operators who want to improve their skills or expand their knowledge into new areas.

Between apprentices and journeymen, the center served 5,200 students with 121,417 hours of training in 2007.

SiteProvidesChallenging Conditions

Located in Coloma, WI, the training center sits on 380 acres of varied terrain with hills and valleys that provide excellent opportunities to train for the real world, where worksite ground is not always nice and level to start with.

The training center even has a pond for teaching dredging and marineconstruction.

Most of the soil is sand, which crane instructor Doug Stegeman says is ideal for training. “We are busiest in winter, when operators who are laid off between construction seasons want to fulfill apprenticeship requirements or sharpen their journeyman skills,” he says. “Sand stays workable throughout the winter. It is also absolutely unforgiving, so it challenges even the best operators to improve their skills.”

All Training Done To A Plan

Another way the training center creates realism in its classes is by having all the training relate to a project and be done to meet a plan. That kind of training is a lot more effective than having an operator simply dig unspecified holes all day.

For example, during a two-week session, all of the various specialty classes might work together to build a section of highway.

The grade-setting class would use GPS or laser transits to lay out the job, set the grades and check the final results.

The earthmoving class would excavate, grade, lay base course, and develop the project until it was ready for paving, when it would be considered complete.

The students would then dismantle it and return the site to its originalcondition.

Says Stegeman, “Using project-related training not only teaches students the required skills, it also lets them see how their work fits into the overall project and teaches them how to work with the other kinds of specialists they will meet on an actual job site.”

Co-Operative Training With Other Trades

The operating engineers often train together with carpenters, pile drivers, pipelayers, and laborers to simulate as nearly as possible the conditions on a real job site.

For example, the training center has a panelized building that crane operators and carpenters work together to put up and take down.

Similarly, crane operators and carpenters work together to assemble and dismantle large cement forms.

The practice is also carried into the excavating and pipe-laying training, where excavator operators and laborers work together to trench and to lay pipe in all kinds of terrain.

Stegeman explains, “On a job site, an equipment operator will daily have to operate a machine in coordination with workers, whether he or she is running a crane to set steel girders or place forms, or using a backhoe to excavate a trench and lay pipe. This kind of joint training teaches operators how to operate comfortably and safely near people – and teaches the other crafts to work safely and confidently near machinery.”

Realistic Site Rules Observed

Another way the training center makes its training realistic is by setting safety and operational standards that match those typical used on job sites.

As one example, Stegeman says pipeline projects often require that all work and materials remain within the prescribed right of way.

That includes spoil piles from trenching, the pipe itself, and even the tailswing of the equipment working on the project.

Consequently, the training center holds pipeline students to those same requirements so they'll be ready when they meet the same challenges while working for their employerslater on.

In another example, crane operators must learn to set up a telescopic-boom crane correctly in 20 minutes or less, as is often required on job sites.

Says Stegeman, “Our job is to train operators to develop the skills, knowledge and attitudes that deliver exceptional productivity and safety on theiremployers' job sites. That's why we make the training as realistic as possible. We're continually finding new ways to expand that approach so we can serve our students and the contractors who employ them better than ever before.”