Project Heavy Duty building heavy-duty skills in next generation of operators

Project Heavy Duty was the brain child of a former trustee of School District #60, Peace River North, in British Columbia. Richard Koop, district principal special projects, has been with the program since its inception. “The program started in 2002 and it’s still just as popular today,” said Koop. “It’s a program that offers grade 11 and 12 students the opportunity to learn how to be a heavy equipment operator by actually getting in the machines and operating them on a real construction site for a week.”

This year, 15 students participated in the program that offers them hands-on equipment experience, a certificate and two high school credits. “The program is a real community effort,” explains Koop. “We identify a project in the community of Fort St. John and then we approach local companies to donate time and equipment. It’s a win-win for everyone involved, not just the students and the school district, but the industry and employers in the area also benefit. Local companies scout the students and we have operators that actually took the program in high school who are now working in the industry and donating their time to train other students.”

Finning donated a Cat® 160M motor grader for the project and Lyndon Wincheruk, a local Finning sales rep, who is also a certified heavy equipment operator, donated his time to help train the students on the machine. “This is one of the most exciting projects I have worked on and it’s great to see the community coming together in support of this program,” said Wincheruk. “Day one started with an hour long safety meeting and then we showed the students how to operate the machines. Within a few hours it was the students behind the wheel with operators in the passenger seat. By day two, the students were operating the machines on their own. I was so impressed with the students’ ability to listen and learn. By the end of the week, they were exhibiting exceptional operating skills.”

This year’s project was a 55-acre plot slated for commercial development. The key is that students have the opportunity to operate every single piece of equipment from graders, dozers, excavators and rock trucks to log loaders, feller bunchers, processors and skidders. “This was a unique situation, in that the trees had already been removed, so the students also got to spend a day operating equipment on an active logging site, 45 minutes north of Fort St. John,” said Koop. “We rotate the students through the machines so they learn everything about the equipment from cold start-ups and fueling to general maintenance on the machine.”

The students don’t just sign-up for the program, there is an application process and interview required to get placed in the program. “We want to ensure their goals, interests and aspirations are aligned with a career in the industry,” says Koop. “And every year we have more than enough applications and the talent level never ceases to amaze me.”

This year’s participants were no exception. “The calibre of the participants was very impressive,” said Koop. “I remember observing students on-site on the final day seeing how far they’d come, watching as they applied safe-operating practices, making eye contact with their fellow operators and operating the equipment properly without being told. I was extremely proud.”