The Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) is one of only eight states out of 40 applicants to receive a $198,000 Ladders of Opportunity grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. With the grant, ITD chose 19 people from close to 700 applicants for a free three-week hands-on heavy equipment operator training course aimed at helping veterans, women, and minorities fill the skilled labor employment gap looming in the construction and aggregates industries, the Bonner County Daily Bee reports.
The course, which was held at the Kootenai Technical Education Campus in Rathdrum, taught students how to operate several pieces of equipment, including an excavator, backhoe, grader, roller, forklift, and dozer. Students also received flagger certification, were trained in signaling, and learned first-aid skills.
According to Russ Rivera, a contract compliance officer with ITD, the demand for skilled workers is great. “Contractors have come to us about the need for skilled labor, so rather than pointing fingers at people, we’re trying to solve a problem and went to the federal government for help,” he told the news agency. “[This program] helps get people into the construction industry who wouldn’t normally be in it. It targets groups who are disadvantaged, underemployed, or not employed.”
Contractors are invited to come in and watch students operate equipment during the course. “Rather than sitting in front of an interview panel, applicants are placed in real-world work scenarios and experience day-to-day job functions,” Jake Melder, ITD’s public affairs specialist, told the news agency. “If the contractor likes what they see, they are welcome to hire new employees on the spot.”
Bert Rohrbach, one of the heavy equipment instructors, told the news agency that the course isn’t intended to replace work experience, but said it was “a marriage of academics and exposure to hands-on training. We’re opening doors,” he said. “Our teaching style is not to wash them out, but to hold the bar high and help them get there.”
The hands-on approach to hiring is a partnership between ITD, KTEC, the Idaho Department of Labor, and the Associated General Contractors of America.