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First Heavy Equipment Operator program students graduate

By JOYANNA LOVE/ Managing Editor

The inaugural class of the Heavy Equipment Operator program at the Jefferson State Community College Chilton-Clanton campus recently celebrated its completion and graduation from the course.

“The Heavy Equipment Operator program at Jefferson State is a prime example of identifying a need and working with industry to address it in a timely manner through a short-term training solution yielding qualified, certified students who are ready to work on day one,” said Alabama Community College System Chancellor Jimmy H. Baker in a press release.

The class was developed with the help from people working in the industry to decrease the amount of on-the-job training needed for new heavy equipment operator hires. The course also incorporated information from National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) Soft Skills Training Certification, Wheeled Loader Certification, and Wheeled Excavator Certification.

“I have always been intrigued about using heavy equipment … and operating of big machines,” graduate Allen Richard Ray Sr. of Verbena said. “There seems to be a lot more opportunities and better pay for people who can run machines like that.”

The class was 12 weeks long, meeting two nights week with eight hours of hands-on experience on equipment with an instructor.

Ray said he would have liked to have more time on the equipment, but was glad that the school was going to give those who had completed the course the opportunity to come back when it has the heavy equipment simulator.

The class is expected to also include more hands-on experience for future classes.

According to a Jefferson State press release, “The inaugural class has been funded by the Craft Training Board of Alabama to complete the program.”

Ray said the instructor for the course was very knowledgeable on the subject and was able to explain how the material they were reading in the book would be applied in the field.

“He had the expertise and the knowledge on how the actual piece of equipment was going to respond to what the book was telling you that you should be doing,” Ray said.

He said the class gave him a good basic knowledge of the specific machinery and the safety measures that need to be taken, which he thinks will be enough “to get him in the door” for a job.

“Working alongside our business and industry partners creates positive outcomes for everyone and we’re eager to expand on the success of this pilot program,” said Jefferson State President Keith Brown. “The Heavy Equipment Operator Program will increase the number of skilled operators to help meet industry demands and it will help individuals acquire valuable jobs to make a better life for themselves and their families.”

Whitney Barlow, Chilton County Industrial Development Authority executive director, said the course is part of training people to fill a “trade skills gap” as people in the industry retire.

“In Alabama, there are more than 2,800 construction job openings each year, with a need for more than 600,000 heavy equipment operators across the U.S. through December 2022,” according to a Jefferson State press release. “Operating engineers and other construction equipment operators had a median wage $21.03 per hour in the Birmingham area in 2019.”

Additional graduates of the inaugural program were Christy Darty, Hunter Fulghum, Ethan Gregg, Don Johnson, Rudy Jones, Ambry Martin, James Newell, Allen Richard Ray Jr., Mason Riley, Casey Thrash and Jordan Worsley.