When looking at the construction industry, one thing is certain: there are not enough skilled tradespeople, yet the need for companies to build, erect, or renovate is growing by leaps and bounds. Heavy equipment and cranes are crucial for construction and operators are in huge demand. In comes Heavy Equipment Colleges of America with private education and training.
We spoke with Chief Operations Officer Cory Albano, who told us, “For now, we don’t use any simulators or similar technology. Our students train on the real deal. We believe that method of delivery enhances the experience for students.”
Depending on the location, schooling can vary, but in general, there are four levels of training. It takes twelve weeks to go through all four modules.
Level 1 teaches heavy equipment handling and gives certification on front-end loaders and backhoes. Training is also provided for the skid steer, without certification given.
“In Level 1, you will get training on three pieces of equipment. The next module is Level 2, which also takes three weeks to complete. It is more rigorous, with more advanced techniques learned including entry-level project management, grading, construction math, and site excavation,” says Cory.
Training for Level 2 occurs on bulldozers and excavators. The third level involves the company’s mobile crane program, for another three weeks. The trainee can test for four certifications from the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO) after that class.
The fourth module is for the lattice boom, a larger type of crane and also runs for three weeks. The level 1 and 2 Heavy equipment certifications go through Adaptable Equipment Proficiency Testing (ADEPT). The crane programs are certified with the NCCCO.
“Level 1 is a prerequisite for Level 2. On the heavy side, you can’t go to Level 2, without Level 1, but you can go to crane. You can start in Level 1 and crane, but you can’t start in lattice and Level 2. They are so different that they don’t really build off each other. Yet, you wouldn’t want to put somebody in lattice that hadn’t obviously been on a smaller crane first,” says Cory.
Other companies do offer similar programs, and according to Cory, most if not all, do a good job. However, Heavy Equipment Colleges of America does stand out in a few ways. It offers more locations – seven – enabling students to stay close to home.
The company has developed a proprietary curriculum with a company called Purpleframe Technologies and is excited about its debut. “This company works with the likes of GE. They develop training modules that are delivered digitally. For example, a GE model showed they could literally take a locomotive apart in 3D and put it back together, which helps in the learning of the maintenance aspect. We intend to pilot a curriculum we developed with them, delivered in a digital format on an e-reader, specific to what we do,” says Cory.
A pilot program with digital textbook delivery will begin at a campus and will be rolled out full-scale next year. The digital method exploits the fact everyone’s life revolves around the phone or a computer, so they can receive the training in the way they do everything else in their lives, digitally, on the phone or an e-reader. The curriculum itself was developed by the company’s own subject matter experts.
Over the last two years, Heavy Equipment Colleges of America has been pursuing national accreditation through the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC) at its Oklahoma and California locations. It is an extremely rigorous process as the ACCSC is a recognized accreditor by the Department of Education.
“The term accreditation gets thrown around loosely in our industry by people who aren’t accredited, but to be nationally accredited is different. The ACCSC is legitimate and has forced us to raise our game to ensure that our students are helped to achieve the outcomes they desire,” says Cory.
Growth in this military-friendly company has been recognized by its inclusion on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies since 2015 as well as the attainment of the Military Friendly® school designation. That a company like Heavy Equipment has grown that fast year after year reinforces the urgency for training in this industry.
Recently, in Oklahoma City, the company was recognized by the VA medical centers, the local community collaborative board, for receiving an award for the care of America’s heroes. “We don’t really chase a lot of rewards,” Cory says. “We decline more opportunities for recognition than we pursue. Our industry is very salt of the earth. We come to work, don’t get hurt, go home and provide for our families. We tend to keep our focus there.”
OSHA is changing its regulations again, and that will alter the course of training significantly. All crane operators will be required to carry a certification, and this is seen as a positive step in securing the safety of the operators, other employees, and the general public.
The new regulations will not necessarily change the curriculum or how the company trains. Now that everyone needs to be certified, Heavy Equipment Colleges of America is in a good position to take on every operator who needs the certification at its NCCCO-approved locations across the country.
However, it is tough to acquire the right staff. “For what we do, you have to be a qualified operator and teacher. It’s easy to find teachers or operators, but it’s difficult to find people that do both,” says Cory.
There are other hurdles to manage as it pertains to accreditation. If the company is fortunate enough to receive accreditation, the requirements already in place require that instructors need a minimum of three years of practical experience before they could even be a teacher. This can be a challenge. But the result is more experience which improves the quality of instruction for the students.
“We do manage to attract the instructors we need and they do a good job. They are high-energy, qualified operators. They are extroverted and have the necessary people skills. They are a natural fit for training, love the equipment, and can communicate in front of a group. On the crane side, it is more difficult. Finding qualified crane instructors is difficult because most want to be on a crane,” says Cory.
The future looks promising. Bureau of Labor Statistics data from the government indicates that hundreds of thousands of equipment operators are going to be needed in the next five years, so Heavy Equipment Colleges of America will be in high demand.
“Knowing this data, our goal is to change the lives of 100,000 families by 2026. It’s our internal goal and what we talk about. It’s lofty, but it drives us,” says Cory.