Heavy equipment operators to fill gap

by Dean Askin

CALENDONIA, Ont. – More young people interested in a career as a professional truck driver should be encouraged to learn to operate heavy equipment first, then translate their experience into trucking where it will be invaluable in filling a need in the industry, says the president of a leading training school.

“We have to educate these young people that this is a great career path,” says Kim Richardson.

He says if young people take training and work first as a heavy-equipment operator, they’ll have the skills they need to move up to driving transports. Richardson notes that although in Ontario a person can drive a transport at 18, few carriers will take on an 18-year-old as a driver because of inexperience and insurance issues.

Richardson’s company, Kim Richardson Transportation Specialists Inc. recently received official provincial certification of its Heavy Equipment course from the Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities. The four-week course launched in January 2002 was developed by KRTS in co-operation with partner companies in the construction industry.

The intensive, 200-hour course provides complete training for people thinking about a career as a heavy-equipment operator. “We actually have an assessment process so they can try the equipment out,” says Richardson.

Richardson adds that there are close ties between heavy-equipment operators and the trucking industry, because in many cases, the equipment operators also hold AZ licences, to drive floats that transport the machinery they operate. “How do you think these operators get the equipment to the job site? They’re truck drivers as well.”

The cross-over and need for an AZ licence means heavy-equipment operators often “fall into” trucking, Richardson explains.

“There aren’t enough career counsellors in schools encouraging young people to become professional drivers,” Richardson says, so tapping into the heavy-equipment sector opportunity can help carriers in the trucking industry deal with a shortage of drivers.

But, he adds, it’s up to carriers to “carry the ball” in this area and develop young drivers. “We’re the entry level. We give them (drivers) what they need to get into the industry,” says Richardson.

And even if a young person doesn’t want to move into trucking as a driver, says Richardson, there’s a rapidly growing need for heavy equipment operators in Ontario that’s being fed by the province’s five-year, $20-billion SuperBuild initiative that includes numerous highway expansion and construction projects all over Ontario.

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