PSO Grade 12 student Nicole Cooper on the excavator simulation machine on Wednesday, Sept. 26. Beth Audet photo.

PSO students given a taste of heavy equipment operation

There’s a “huge demand” for young heavy equipment operators in B.C.

100 Mile House students experienced what it’s like to drive an excavator, a wheel dozer and a bulldozer.

Vancouver Island University brought its mobile heavy equipment simulation trailer to Peter Skene Ogden Secondary School (PSO) on Wednesday, Sept. 26.

Ted Dillman, chair of the university’s heavy equipment operator program, said there’s a “huge demand” for young heavy equipment operators in B.C.

“Over the last couple of years, the province has given us some money to develop courses to get young people involved in the forest sector and the construction sector.”

He said the industries are currently comprised of older people who are ready to retire, but no young people are coming up to take their place.

“We want to make sure that we get some young people in before all the senior people are gone, so that there’s somebody to help them train and help them get up to speed…”

Dillman said the university partnered with West Fraser and the Council of Forest Industries (COFI) to bring the simulators to high schools.

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The large trailer parks outside the school and graduating students then get to run the simulators for fifteen minutes each, “so they can understand what they can do besides other types of trades, so they can come run equipment,” said Dillman.

Over the past few weeks, he said they’ve brought the trailer to Cedars Christian School, in Prince George, Correlieu Secondary School, in Quesnel, Lake City Secondary School, in Williams Lake, and PSO, in 100 Mile House.

Vancouver Island University has had a heavy equipment operator program for 60 years, said Dillman.

“We’ve got about 35 to 40 pieces of equipment, plus we’ve got two trailers full of these simulators, one construction, one forestry.”

He said they often work with Indigenous people within the First Nation communities, as well, teaching foundation and technology programs in the trailers then bringing them to the campus to run the equipment.

“We’ve been very successful.”

They’ve only just started touring the heavy equipment simulators around high schools, said Dillman, but he said enrollment will “without a doubt” increase because of it.

As for the PSO students, he said, “They’re having so much fun.”

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Grade 12 student Raven Recolete, Shyla Kari and Nicole Cooper were driving the simulators when the Free Press arrived.

Recolete said she might, indeed, consider a career in heavy equipment after trying the wheel loader simulator.

“It seems really fun and interesting and I enjoyed it. Yeah, definitely something I could consider in the future.”

Kari, whose grandfather worked on cranes, said she’s thinking about joining the construction industry when she graduates.

Although her biggest motivator would be that she could make good money driving equipment, she also said, “It’s pretty fun, too, and not a lot of chicks do it.”

Cooper said driving the simulators was making her frustrated, but that she might also consider heavy equipment as a career option.

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