“The D39 gets great feedback all of the time”
Continuing education is vital for equipment operators to remain at the forefront of the construction industry’s ever-evolving technological advantages. Fortunately for members of the International Union of Operating Engineers (I.U.O.E.) in Minnesota and the Dakotas, that training is easily accessible at the Local 49 Training Center in Hinckley, Minn.'
“We offer all types of certifications and training – HAZMAT, asbestos, mine health and safety, large equipment classes, cranes and more,” said Director Layne Johnson. “Some of our members come for refresher courses, and others are here to learn different skills or how to operate new machines.”
The training is offered at no cost to all of the more than 14,000 members of Local 49, and it isn’t limited to experienced operators. The facility also handles apprenticeship training, providing a 4,000-hour program that counts as 27 credits toward an associate degree at nearby North Hennepin Community College.
“We’re funded completely by our member dues; we don’t receive any state or federal aid, so we are a resource for them,” explained Johnson. “We want members to use our facility. We don’t charge anything – and, if someone lives more than 100 miles away, we offer a per diem and pay for their hotel.”
Members have been taking advantage of all the facility has to offer. Johnson reports that approximately 6,000 members have completed some form of training already in 2017, making it the busiest year on record at the site.
The center is equipped to handle a wide array of training. With 400 acres of land, 10 classrooms, a six-bay garage, welding area, HAZMAT center and an indoor training arena, the center can provide just about anything a member needs.
“The facility gives us the ability to do a lot of training at the same time,” said Equipment Training Coordinator Mike Kuklok. “We take several measures to make sure that we offer efficient training at our facility, and that we are giving our members as much real-world training as possible.”
One of the ways that the center does this is by incorporating projects into the training on its 400-acres of dirt. Instructors often have several different training sessions collaborating on assignments.
“Each piece of equipment may be working in a different area on site, but they are all in sync,” said Kuklok. “If we’re building a road, we’ll have a dozer class grade it, and an excavator class load the trucks. Then, students from a truck class haul the material to another area where a grader class can spread it back out over the facility.”
Another feature that increases the offerings and efficiency of the center is its indoor training area. The 30,000-square-foot, dirt-floor arena is ideal for courses using smaller machines, making year-round training a reality.
“We don’t have to worry about frost, rain or snow. We can keep people in machines, digging in dirt throughout the winter,” said Johnson. “It’s a great advantage for our members.”
In order to accommodate so many people, the Training Center keeps a large and flexible fleet of rental and owned machines on site. It turns to Road Machinery & Supplies Co., and Sales Rep Tom Major for Komatsu equipment.
“We consider January through the first part of May as our ‘training season,’ so we need a lot of machines on site for the classes we offer,” explained Kuklok. “We own some machines, but rental programs are a huge benefit for us as they keep our overhead low, because we only need those machine for four months. RMS and Tom go above and beyond to work with us and make sure we have Komatsu equipment available.”
The center purchased a Komatsu D39PX dozer for its fleet, and it wasn’t by chance.
“We get feedback from all of our members on machines they like and don’t like, whether through field experience or at our site,” said Johnson. “The D39 gets great feedback all of the time; the visibility to the blade is the best around with the slant-nose design. Its versatility is perfect for our use because it allows us to offer a variety of classes and training with it. That’s why we purchased it as a permanent addition to our fleet.”
Operating Engineers also rented a second D39PX and a Komatsu PC170LC excavator for the 2017 training season. It’s an arrangement that benefits both parties.
“RMS does a great job of putting together plans and getting us new machines that are in great condition,” Johnson attested. “This is also a testing ground because operators run the Komatsu equipment every day right next to other brands. It gives RMS an opportunity to showcase the Komatsu brand, and it stands out.
“RMS does a lot to assist us,” he added. “We know what we’re getting with Komatsu and RMS. When our members see a new Komatsu piece on the yard, it’s the one they want to get in. That’s the best compliment we can give.”
Raising the bar
The Training Center’s primary goal is to prepare operators for success in today’s industry. For that reason, the staff constantly seeks out the latest construction trends.
“This industry is changing rapidly,” commented Kuklok. “Our instructors are highly invested in learning the newest technology and practices, so we can pass that on to our members.”
Two of those advancements are engine-emissions regulations and GPS technology, areas that Kuklok envisions becoming even more important in the future.
“We try to reflect and teach what is happening in the field, so that our members are ready for it,” he said. “GPS is exciting, whether it’s an aftermarket system or integrated, the technology is showing up on jobsites more regularly, so our operators need to know how to run it. The same goes with emissions, if you don’t know how to properly maintain a Tier 4 engine, you limit your opportunities. It’s our responsibility to make sure that when one of our members arrives at a jobsite, they are prepared and ready to go.”