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Wednesday, 26 March 2014 14:46

Great Plains College receives federal funding to upgrade heavy equipment operator program

Written by  Matthew Liebenberg
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Coolees Excavating owner Scott Lamb, who is a graduate of the heavy equipment operator program at Great Plains College, speaks during the March 18 announcement of $230,000 in federal funding to acquire a mobile simulation lab for the program. Coolees Excavating owner Scott Lamb, who is a graduate of the heavy equipment operator program at Great Plains College, speaks during the March 18 announcement of $230,000 in federal funding to acquire a mobile simulation lab for the program.

The heavy equipment operator program at Great Plains College (GPC) has received a major boost with $230,000 in federal funding that will be used to create a mobile simulation lab.


David Anderson, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cypress Hills-Grasslands MP made the announcement on behalf of the Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification during an event at the college March 18. He said the Western Diversification Program has previously invested in skills training in Saskatchewan, but this was the first direct allocation to GPC.
“We need to have more young people going into the skilled trades, and I think this seems to be a real win-win situation here,” he said. “It’s going to shorten the course for the young people. It allows the college to graduate more graduates per year and gives employers the opportunity to bring this equipment on site and actually use it on their site as well.”
He mentioned that heavy equipment operators are in short supply in the province. They are employed in over 80 sectors in Saskatchewan, including road and oil field construction to mining and manufacturing operations.
“A shortage of heavy equipment operators directly affects business and industry productivity and restricts the amount of work that can be done even by our rural and urban municipalities,” he said.
The use of mobile simulation training equipment will make it possible to increase the number of graduates from 12 to 24 and ultimately to 32 per year. The program will add an on-site course for employed heavy equipment operators who want to refresh their skills.
In addition, the course length will be decreased by two weeks and tuition costs will be cut in half.
Great Plains College President and CEO David Keast said tuition cost has been a key challenge of the program.
“Running it on a continual basis at a very high tuition rate is a deterrent for some students who would otherwise get access to this kind of training,” he said. “One of the keys to addressing the market demand in the province is to find a way to reduce costs — with the help of WD and our partner Kramer Ltd. we found a way to do that.”
Kramer Ltd. is the Caterpillar dealer for the province of Saskatchewan. The company will fund the installation, training and construction costs for the program. Kramer Ltd. Marketing Manager Devin Wallin said it is an ongoing struggle to find qualified heavy equipment operators.
“Something our customers are always asking us about is how we can help them get more qualified people in the seats of the equipment,” he mentioned. “When Great Plains approached us about getting involved with this project, it was a natural fit for us.”
The simulation equipment for grader, excavator, loader, dozer and scraper training will be installed in mobile trailers, which will make it possible to do the training at the different college campuses as well as at employer job sites.
“These trailers are going to allow Great Plains to use them here or on a site of their choosing,” Wallin said. “We’re working an agreement out that in the times when they’re not using them for the actual course, that we’ll be able to use them for some of our purposes with our customers.”
He added Kramer Ltd. is already using a few of its own simulators, but the Great Plains College simulation equipment is more advanced.
“It’s an emerging area in the world of training for heavy equipment and it’s something that we think is cutting-edge in the work that we’re involved with,” he said.
Scott Lamb, a graduate of the heavy equipment operator program at the college in 2004, was one of the speakers during the announcement. In 2006 he started his own company, Coolees Excavating, in Swift Current. He has found it difficult to hire and keep experienced heavy equipment operators.
“The problem I ran into with experienced operators was they wanted money and they had lots of places to be and lots of job offers,” he said. “So I was hiring the green guys, guys who have never run a machine before and putting them in machines.”
He felt confident this kind of program will make it easier to provide students with the necessary experience to allow them to operate expensive equipment in a competent manner.
“Hiring someone right out of this course is a great thing,” he said. “To me it just really bridges the gap between no experience and a lot of experience."

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