The union that represents 400,000 North American equipment operators, mechanics, welders, surveyors and stationary engineers wants to revolutionize how the workforce gets trained on new technology, and is forming creative partnerships with equipment manufacturers as they prepare to open a massive training complex outside of Houston.
The International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) is launching the training center and entering into partnership agreements with several prominent members of the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM). Brands like Tadano, Manitowoc, Grove, Potain, Link-Belt, Terex AWP and Genie will provide heavy equipment on which workers will receive training at the center. Discussions are also underway with other prominent manufacturers.
“It’s to everyone’s benefit to expand the pool of highly-trained, technologically-savvy equipment operators,” says IUOE President James T. Callahan. “We have heard the appeals of employers all around the country who are having a hard time getting enough qualified workers on their job sites, and the only way to meet that demand is by creating new, cutting edge opportunities to receive training.”
Scheduled for completion early in 2018 and a grand opening in the spring, the IUOE Training and Conference Center is a first-of-its-kind comprehensive training complex. It features 235 acres of rugged Texas back country as a venue for IUOE members to learn how to operate the latest technology in the heavy equipment, crane, pipeline, surveying and stationary plant domains.
While the partnerships and training programs are still being finalized, union chief of staff Joe Giacin says equipment manufacturers who partner on the project can benefit by growing the pool of workers who are qualified to operate their individual brands of heavy equipment. He welcomes inquiries from companies that might be interested in getting involved at [email protected].
“The manufacturers partnering with us see the value in the exposure that their equipment will get with students,” Giacin says. “Contractors listen to their crews when they’re buying new equipment, and if the workers are more familiar with certain brands, that’s going to increase the likelihood that those brands will be on the job site.”
Workforce Training Meeting the Needs of an Evolving Industry
One common thread will run through every piece of curriculum the IUOE offers at the center—the emphasis on training operators, engineers and mechanics to be highly-skilled technicians capable of putting modern heavy equipment’s on-board suite of advanced computer technology to its fullest, most efficient use.
“If you spend your whole life working on Microsoft software, and somebody hands you an Apple computer, you don’t know where to start,” Giacin says. “Our operators today are faced with similar issues. Typically, the average crane operator can be asked to operate a dozen different manufacturers’ machines with just as many different computerized control systems.”
But the IUOE and its partners are not only developing curriculum to orient workers on modern GPS guidance, computer control and electronic safety systems, all while keeping crews safe on the job site. They are also tailoring their training so that workers of all experience levels can benefit.
Apprentices will be able to learn new skills and gain an entry into trades work. Veteran crew members will be able to hone their skills and learn new technology. And more than 1,000 IUOE training instructors from across North America will receive standardized instruction on how best to offer training at a local level.
When the facility opens its doors to the first wave of operator trainees this spring, Callahan says it will represent the completion of the IUOE’s largest investment in worker training in its 122-year history.
“It is a huge investment, funded solely by the IUOE and its affiliated locals,” Callahan says. “It’s well north of $100 million.”
A Modern Worker Training Facility
Located in the Houston suburb of Crosby, the complex will include 227 dorm rooms to provide on-site housing for visiting trainees from across North America, along with cafeteria and conference facilities.
The IUOE already operates worker training facilities at many of its more than 120 local unions throughout the United States and Canada. But Giacin says the new IUOE Training and Conference Center will offer something that’s hard to come by anywhere else—immediate access to the most current products and technology available in today’s market.
Training programs on the center’s 235-acre range will run anywhere from a few days to many months, depending on the experience level and needs of the trainees in question.
“We can’t put a bulldozer or a crane inside a classroom,” Giacin says. “We need property in a climate where we can adequately train our folks year round.”
With the help of corporate partners, Callahan says the comprehensive equipment operator training ground will be capable of preparing the next generation of workers to meet the needs of the future workforce. For a union that’s long placed an emphasis on training its people, Callahan says the IUOE Training and Conference Center is the next step in the evolution of worker education.
“We’re breaking new ground here,” Giacin says. “We’ve never done anything like this before.”
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