Heavy Lifting | A program for students interested in heavy equipment operation

Heavy Metal Rocks - KamloopsBy Tammy Schuster

It’s 7:30 on a Friday morning as 26 workers walk to their posts in the T’Kemlups Indian Band gravel pit to fire up their heavy machinery. These workers are on site for three full days of work, all of them are beginners and all of them are high school students.

The students of School District No. 73 in Kamloops are part of the Heavy Metal Rocks Project. The program is offered by the school district to provide students with experience and training, exposing them to career options as heavy equipment operators within the construction industry.

Each year the program accepts 26 Grade 11 and 12 students wherein they spend roughly 40 hours learning about, and getting their hands dirty, with heavy equipment. After a few classroom orientation sessions, students spend three days rotating through 13 stations in the pit, under the supervision and direction of experienced operators.

“The excitement level is over the top,” says Ron Collins, district vice-principal, trades and transitions, SD No. 73. “Interest is steadily increasing to the point where we are seeing many siblings of former students coming through the program.”

Offered once per year, Collins says they receive close to 60 applicants per session before narrowing it down to 26 students.

Once accepted, students attend one session per weekend for two weekends where they receive general orientation and complete Occupational First Aid Level I and Construction Site Safety certifications. They complete WHMIS training online and then receive work site safety training from WorkSafe BC on the first morning of the hands-on component.

Then, they’re out to the pit for three days spending 90 minutes at each of the 13 stations training on equipment such as front end loaders, rock trucks, and excavators.

Now in its tenth year of operation, Collins says the Heavy Metal Rocks program has over 50 companies and sponsors contributing to the program each year with equipment, supplies, and manpower.

“The whole program is pretty much run by donations from community sponsors and volunteers, including the awards.” 

After students complete their last day on site, the experience is capped off with a celebratory barbeque — sponsored by SICA — wherein awards are given out worth $500 each. There are seven awards in total and include top overall operator and top female operator.

This past year a new sponsor came on board and provided students with training and certification on forklifts and elevated work stations.

“If we had to put a price tag on the event — including paying the operators — it would amount to approximately $1.5 million,” says Collins. “While some sponsors bring their own employees, many of the operators are retired but, seeing the value in the program, volunteer their time for the event every year.”

The cost to attend the program is $125 per student and it includes a t-shirt, baseball hat, all certifications, and meals. Students must have steel-toed work boots and WorkSafe BC provides hard hats, eye and ear protection, high-visibility vests, and gloves. Collins says many sponsors have stepped forward to pay fees when a student could not afford the cost to attend. 

But he says the biggest impact has been giving students the experience, knowledge, and exposure to something outside of the classroom setting. The experience gives students information needed to help make a decision as to whether this is something they want to pursue. 

Plus, students learn the importance of proper training and qualifications that they can take forward into many careers.

“I don’t know how many times I’ve heard from parents that they wish they had a program like this when they were young.”

To learn more about the Heavy Metal Rocks program, please contact Ron Collins at (250) 318-7492. 

SICA has proudly worked with School District No. 73 since the inception of the Heavy Metal Rocks program. With staff participating on the steering committee and the active involvement of our valued membership and partners, SICA and the construction industry are well represented in helping to deliver this successful program to students of the Thompson-Nicola region. 

This article first appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of SICA's Construction Review Magazine. To read the entire magazine click here.

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