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Heavy equipment industry offers student training

Submitted Photo Local 49 Apprenticeship Coordinator Steve Tuhy, left, gives instruction during a hands-on event at Barnhart Crane in Mandan March 29.

North Dakota students can jumpstart their careers, get hands-on experience and receive high school credit for learning about heavy equipment operation. After a pilot program this school year, the Operating Engineers Pathway is expanding statewide, and is now enrolling students for the fall semester.

The industry-driven program is a partnership between the Roughrider Education Services Program and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49.

Pathway participants earn high school credit and are also eligible for apprenticeship credit after graduation. Students can remain enrolled in their local school while taking four, one-semester classes that cover topics from equipment fundamentals to grade and construction math. The online classes offer flexibility, and in-person learning events provide hands-on experience and industry networking opportunities.

“With a shortage of skilled equipment operators, we need to train the next generation,” said Molly Barnes, executive vice president of Northern Improvement, who is also on the Pathway program advisory board. “This program will prepare students for an excellent career and help employers find the talent we need to meet the demands of the future.”

The Pathway program comes to North Dakota after explosive growth since it launched in Minnesota three years ago.

“There has been a tremendous appetite for this innovative education/industry partnership,” said Jenny Winkelaar, director of workforce and community development for Local 49. ”

The program’s success comes as companies report a shortage of skilled labor and as jobs in the trades gain attention for being meaningful careers at good wages — without the need for burdensome college debt.

John Sunday, branch manager for Barnhart Crane in Mandan, said the demand of operators “is always going to be a need,” and he’s eager to partner with the Pathway to teach students about the trade. At the end of March, Barnhart hosted a hands-on event where students operated skid steers and even a small crane.

Jake Streitz, a student who attended the event, especially enjoyed the crane.

“Not everyone can say they ran one of those on a school trip,” he said.

The Pathway program is the first of its kind in North Dakota.

The Operating Engineers Pathway is enrolling for the fall semester. Students and parents can learn more at local49.org/pathway or by emailing oe.pathway@k12.nd.us.

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