Not enough people are stepping up to the excavator, dozer or backhoe, and that’s a big problem when the economy is fueling a need for heavy equipment operators.
“We’ve seen an alarming decline in the number of people working in the skilled trades,” said Russ Rivera, compliance officer with Idaho Transportation Department.
To boost interest, the ITD and Associated General Contractors of America will offer a three-week heavy equipment operator school June 8-30 in Rathdrum.
It’s free, including lodging, for up to 20 people, even if they live outside Idaho. Program managers are especially interested in recruiting military veterans, including disabled vets. The national unemployment rate for young vets rose in January to 6.3 percent, higher than the general unemployment rate of 4.8 percent.
Average hourly pay for these jobs rose by over 3 percent in the past year, to $28.52 per hour.
“It’s just a great opportunity for someone making $10 an hour to get up to middle class,” project coordinator Connie Haggerty said.
There is a shortage of heavy equipment operators throughout the region, said Clyde Roose, head trainer at the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 370 training school in Spangle.
“We don’t have too much trouble filling spaces to get new apprentices; it’s just trying to keep them,” Roose said. “I think a lot of people think it’s a lot more glamorous work than it is.”
And when construction slows, as it did during the recession, workers leave the field, he said. “And then when things start coming back, there isn’t enough people, so everybody’s gotta scramble and get people trained up.”
Roose added, “In all reality it’s going to continue for a long time.”
Participants in the Idaho course will be trained to operate a skid steer, backhoe, loader, excavator, mini-excavator, roller, haul-truck, dozer and forklift. They also will receive flagger certification, training in signaling and crane rigging, and safety and first aid skills.
The ITD ran a similar program two years ago and won a federal grant to recreate the school.
Construction employment increased by 36,000 jobs in January to the highest level since November 2008 as employers raised pay in an effort to address a chronic worker shortage, according to AGC of America.