The International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 115 operates one of B.C.’s oldest and most prestigious heavy equipment training facilities in B.C. with thousands of apprentices and journeymen having emerged from the cab doors of its Maple Ridge training site. And, it's done it with little support from the provincial government.
“A lot of people think that we only train our members - but 90 per cent of the people we train are not our members,” said IUOE training facility administrator Brad Randall.
The IUOE Training Association, which runs the school, has become a training force of its own with over 480 indentured apprentices in the field, and provides upgrading courses to operators at jobsites ranging from Prince George to Vancouver Island.
“There are a lot of funding opportunities that come out but as private trainers we are not able to access that funding, which is mostly provincial,” said Randall, whose union apprenticeship completion rate is in the high 80s. That is in sharp contrast to the Industry Training Authority of B.C. where only half that figure complete.
Currently, the facility - which trains up to 200 students on select courses only available at the Maple Ridge training facility - receives only 10 per cent of its funding from the Industry Training Authority of B.C.
“We rely on industry, the union, training fees and other sources for the rest,” said Randall.
Randall is constantly juggling a wait list as more students want access to the heavy equipment operator program, including road building. The courses, which adhere to strict supervision and WorkSafeBC requirements, can only accommodate five or 10 students.
The training is comprehensive.
“We have people right now who are in our courses because they went through other courses that were so bad they were not trained properly,” he said.
The site is now running 12 months a year with 30 pieces of equipment.
“We used to shut down in summer,” said Randall as employers are looking for skilled operators.
“Right now, we are sending a lot of people to Kitimat,” said Randall.
The northern B.C. town is undergoing a construction boom as it rebuilds a smelter and prepares for future LNG facilities.
The ability to place people quickly is a benefit to those completing training, said Randall, as it has been demonstrated that skill levels wane after three months. The board of directors for the school is made up of three companies that are members of the BC Road Builders & Heavy Construction Association (BCRBHCA) plus a crane company representative.
The problem that the facility faces is one of expansion and finding the money to hire more instructors and buy newer equipment. The 17-hectare site is leased from the B.C. government and Randall would like to see a long-term lease or outright purchase so that the IUOE Training Association could build permanent classrooms on site rather than rely upon portables. He is also currently looking for more portable classrooms to accommodate the growing student base.
As well, Randall is eager to start another site in northern B.C. as more Aboriginal people express interest in becoming heavy equipment operators. The Maple Ridge facility has provided training for 40 First Nations students over the past two years, with some able to qualify under the The Pacific Trail Pipelines Aboriginal Skills and Employment Partnership Training funding program.
The Maple Ridge training facility is the only one in B.C. that offers the training for the mobile crane operator’s Red Seal program. Randall said that the general demand for crane operators is such that he had to put another course on, but without additional funding from authorities such as the ITA, the extra dollars had to come from other programs.
The need to double up on crane training comes from the need to both fill jobs in the expanding marketplace but also the need to bring crane operators back for further training. Normally, there are 50 apprentices out in the market, but current demand has ramped up the number to almost double at 90.
The facility offers asphalt laydown (entry and advanced), asphalt paving/laydown technician, gravel plant operator, crane common core and with practical, mobile crane lattice boom friction, deck hand, heavy equipment operator/specialized equipment and a foundation program for road building and heavy construction. Only the mobile crane program, the heavy equipment foundation and asphalt laydown courses are designated trades under the ITA.
However, the Maple Ridge site has a gravel plant and Randall said its plant operator (gravel crushing plant, concrete plant and asphalt plant) is now awaiting designation as a trade under the ITA.
Jack Davidson, executive director of the BCRBHCA, said: “The operating engineers training facility is an excellent facility for training crane operators, those in the paving industry and heavy equipment operators.” The facility plays a key role in providing what is some of the most expensive training in the province because of the high cost of equipment (rolling stock and cranes), he pointed out.
He said that when individuals complete their apprenticeship in heavy equipment operation it is a recognized trade.
“It is not a provincial standard,” he said “But, a national one.”