Operating Engineers 324 Creates Opportunities for Aspiring Construction Trade Workers
As the economy has picked up steam, construction jobs have increased, creating opportunities for people interested in building careers. Operating Engineers 324 in Howell, Michigan, has established a Construction Career Center, has geared up to invite high school students to experience the challenges and rewards of a construction career and offers a comprehensive apprenticeship program to bring along the next generation of skilled trades people.
"Our purpose is to make sure individuals in our apprenticeships have great opportunities for years to come," says Lee Graham, Training Director for Operating Engineers Local 324.
The Need for Talent
Construction spending reached a seven-year high in August, climbing at the fastest rate since 2006, according to Associated General Contractors. More than $1 trillion in projects are under way. More than 308,000 new construction jobs have been added in the past year. Yet, filling skilled trade openings remains a challenge for many contractors. About 86 percent of firms reported in an AGC survey that they are having a hard time finding qualified workers to fill available positions. Shortages will become more severe as demand grows.
Apprenticeships create opportunities for young people to enter the construction profession and learn a trade without racking up thousands of dollars in college loans.
In September at Macomb Community College in Michigan, President Obama announced an additional $175 million in earn-and-learn training grants, aimed at training and hiring more than 34,000 new apprentices in high-growth and high-tech industries. November 1st through 8th marked National Apprenticeship Week.
The U.S. Department of Labor reports that upon graduation, apprentices earn on average $50,000 annually, and over the course of his or her career, an apprentice will earn on average $300,000 more than peers who did not take the apprenticeship route.
Graham reports the Operating Engineers 324 Construction Career Center has received a high number of applications for its apprenticeship programs. The training includes crane operation, excavating, using GPS systems with bulldozers and other skills.
"With three and four years of apprenticeship programs, students can learn without accumulating the debt associated with college," Graham says. "You go to work for an employer day one, while taking the training and working throughout the years of the apprenticeship. Earn while you learn."
The Operating Engineers 324, established in 1906, offers more than 330 classes at its two career centers. It began the apprenticeship program in 1967. It maintains an emphasis on safety that is embedded during the training, because it's a priority on every project. About 85 percent of the apprentices who begin complete the three- and four-year program.
"The apprentice program has done a good job of putting professional operators in the field," says Bruce Campbell, CEO of MISS DIG, who has worked with the local for years.
Horizontal Drilling Training
This year, students interested in a career in horizontal drilling gained an opportunity to learn the needed skills on a new horizontal directional drilling machine, the Vermeer D24x40, and McLaughlin vacuum excavation equipment, which the Construction Career Center received from Vermeer of Michigan in Fowlerville, Michigan, and set up at the Operating Engineer's 515-acre construction campus.
Horizontal drilling is used to install gas, fiberoptic, water and other lines. The drill rod is placed underground and the piping pulled back through.
The D24x40 provides 28,000 pounds of thrust and pullback with 4,200 feet per pound of rotational torque. The carriage speed is 240 feet per minute and a rotational speed of 270 rpm. The D24x40 is quiet, at 104 dB(A). A full-color touchscreen display provides real-time location information, including the view from a closed-circuit camera integrated into the drill head, which allows the operator to make corrective steering adjustments if needed.
Vacuum excavation is required to dry the hole where the drilling equipment enters the ground to ensure no damage is done to existing utility lines. Vermeer's vacuum equipment, with a three-stage cyclonic filtration system, allows contractors to excavate and remove solids and liquids while digging. The materials are instantly loaded into a storage tank for later transportation to a dump or landfill.
Vermeer staff members worked with the Operating Engineers trainers on the new horizontal drilling technology changes before classes began at the end of October.
Participants spend two hours in the classroom and eight hours receiving hands-on training daily for two weeks, for a total of 120 hours of instruction.
Apprentices learn about safe digging and the importance of contacting the MISS DIG system, Michigan's utility notification system.
"It's about the health and safety of the worker, the general public and the utilities," Campbell says. "MISS DIG became involved with the apprenticeship program and how they reached out to educate new workers in utility and underground work to make sure the apprentices are safe."
Those planning an excavation should call 811 or go to missdig.org at least three days before starting the project. MISS DIG will notify utility companies to mark the utility lines. About half of all requests come in through the website, Campbell said. The 811 system is available nationwide.
Promoting Construction Interest Early
Operating Engineers 324 also supports Michigan Construction Career Days for middle and high school students, in grades seven through 12. In its ninth annual year, the program brings more than 2,000 students to the Career Center and offers them an opportunity to learn about different trades and to hands on try laying bricks, running wires, nailing boards together and other skills. They use real tools and operate heavy equipment, donated by employers, including cranes, excavators, bulldozers and paving machines under the direction of construction professionals.
Event organizers encourage all young people to participate, not just those who know they want to enter the construction industry. The students learn what construction careers are about and the training and educational paths available. In addition to the hands-on activities, students can talk with owners, contractors, colleges, universities and industry associations. They learn about skilled trades, management, specialty fields within the industry and design opportunities.
"We find it rewarding to be able to pass down to the next generation of operating engineers what we have learned during our careers," says Graham.