Too few 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, ITD and Associated General Contractors of America will offer a three-week heavy equipment operator school June 8-30 in Rathdrum, near Coeur d’Alen.
It’s free, including lodging, for up to 20 people, even if they live outside Idaho.
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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, Washington, near Spokane.
“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.
Two Idaho metro areas were among three nationwide with the largest percentage of construction, mining and logging job increases from January 2016 to January 2017, the Associated General Contractors of America said Friday, citing federal jobs data. Sector employment in the Lewiston area grew 36 percent, with 400 new jobs, tying with Grand Forks, N.D., for first place. Pocatello grew by 29 percent, with 400 new jobs, ranking third.
The Boise area gained 1,600 jobs, a 9 percent increase, tying for 38th place.
Idaho gained 3,800 construction jobs (not including mining and logging) over the year, a 10 percent increase.
The Idaho Statesman contributed.
How to apply
Deadline is April 1. Contact Connie Haggerty at Connie.Haggerty@itd.idaho.gov or (208) 772-1234