Like almost everything else we use today, construction equipment is incorporating more advanced technology than ever. Today’s equipment allows contractors to do more, and to do it more easily, than was previously possible. On the other hand, even experienced operators often need additional training to understand and use new equipment efficiently. Fortunately, the industry has responded with a variety of training tools and programs.
Equipment manufacturers represent one obvious source of operator training. Some offer quite extensive training programs that combine classroom and jobsite instruction. Others provide comprehensive printed materials or self-directed online courses.
Some industry associations also offer training programs, though not surprisingly, these are less equipment-specific than manufacturer-sponsored classes. Association programs are more likely to focus on industry-wide changes in typical machine operation, safety standards and practices, environmental requirements, and the like.
In addition, trade shows such as World of Concrete provide a wealth of opportunities for contractors to learn about new equipment capabilities and how to integrate them into their operations. From formal educational seminars to exhibitor demonstrations to hands-on practice sessions, attendees can glean lots of worthwhile information.
Let’s look at some representative training options.
Dedicated training center. Companies that develop and market innovative equipment know they need to support customers who want to adopt new technology and methods. For example, Somero’s large-line laser screeds and 3-D Profiler System have changed the way many contractors produce quality flatwork, but it takes some time for crews to master the techniques. To facilitate the process, Somero recommends a combination of classroom instruction, hands-on practice at its Fort Myers, Fla., training facility, and follow-up support on the jobsite.
Eric Kangas, Somero’s director of customer service, is responsible for the company’s operator training program. “All training for our small-line equipment takes place at the customer’s site, with maybe a day or two of shop training followed by a day or two ‘in the mud,’” Kangas says. “For the larger machines, though, we think it’s best for operators to go through the full program that we offer every month at our training center. We build the cost of training up to four students into the price of the machine, but customers can send more operators if they’re willing to pay for it. After they’ve completed the four-day program, we’ll send an instructor out to the customer’s jobsite for two or three days to help them get started.”
The typical class ranges from two to 10 students, with a second instructor assigned to classes of eight or more. Instructors use a variety of methods to keep students interested and accommodate different learning styles. Classes cover equipment operation, safety, maintenance, troubleshooting, and repair, so some contractors also send equipment managers or maintenance managers to the classes.
Instructor John Knuuttila says, “We’ll do short segments using PowerPoint slides in the classroom to make sure we cover things step by step, and then go out for some hands-on practice in the parking lot, where the equipment is set up to do dry runs. After I demonstrate an operation, the students have the chance to ask questions, and then try it several times themselves. That’s something they can’t easily do on the job.
“We try to set up classes with students from different customers, because they all learn from each other as well as from the instructors. I also recommend that customers send two or three operators to a class. It’s hard for a single student to take in everything; it’s good to have someone else so they can remind each other of what they learned. On the other hand, if there are five or six in the class from one company, everybody starts to feel that [somebody else] is going to learn this, and I don’t need to pay as much attention,” Knuuttila says.
In recent years, economic conditions have required Somero to depart somewhat from the training procedure it considers ideal. Since the recession, Kangas says some contractors have been reluctant to purchase equipment until they’ve been awarded a particular job, at which point it’s sometimes too late to fit classroom training into the schedule. In such cases, the company provides operator training that meets the customer’s needs.
Dealer network and online tools. Multiquip Inc. produces a diverse line of equipment used for site preparation, power generation, and mixing and placing concrete. Multiquip also runs regular training sessions on the proper use and upkeep of its products, but targets classes as much to equipment dealer sales and service personnel as to end-users.
Juan Quiros, Multiquip’s director of product management, says the company offers sales and service training tracks for its concrete placement and finishing products, where students learn how to operate, maintain, troubleshoot, and repair the equipment. Classes are held four to six times per year at the company’s Carson, Calif., headquarters and its facility in Boise, Idaho. The Boise facility is set up for students to actually prepare a site and place concrete using Multiquip machines.
Multiquip employs a team of field application specialists, whose role is to bridge the gap between dealers and end-users, making customers aware of new equipment and technology either pre-sale or post-sale. They also serve as classroom instructors.
“The classes range in size from 12 to 18 people and last from one to three days, depending on the range of products and the depth of information covered,” Quiros says. “We tailor the classes to the needs of the attendees and take into account the backgrounds they bring to the training. We offer service training at no charge to contractors in Carson or Boise if possible, but we will also train contractors at their own sites or at a local dealership.”
In the past few months, Multiquip has introduced online training courses in basic hydraulic and electrical troubleshooting for its machines. The courses cost $79 and $99, respectively, and students can register through the Multiquip website. Once registered, they have 30 days to complete each self-directed course.
Service seminars. Pump manufacturer Schwing offers three levels of training seminars at its St. Paul, Minn., headquarters. The basic first-level course is designed for operators and covers basic electrical and hydraulic concepts, as well as safe operating practices. The second- and third-level seminars are designed mainly for maintenance and repair technicians, and cover troubleshooting topics in greater depth.
The operators’ class costs $975 per person, and will next be held Feb. 3-6, 2014. The level 2 mechanics’ class costs $1025, and is scheduled for Feb. 10-13. The advanced mechanics’ class costs $1075 and takes place Feb. 17-20.
Prepackaged training kits. Bobcat provides a variety of training resources for operators of its loaders, excavators, telehandlers, and attachments. In addition to the Operator’s Handbook that comes attached to every piece of equipment, Bobcat offers product-specific safety videos that are available for sale as DVDs or can be watched for free online.
Bobcat also has developed training kits that allow a contractor or other instructor to present prescribed courses on operating its equipment and attachments. Each kit costs about $150 and includes an administrator’s guide; VHS tapes and DVDs; and handbooks, tests, and attendance certificates for five attendees. Additional copies of any of the course components can be purchased, but none of the training materials are returnable.
Education and training are part of most industry associations’ mission, and associations offer a wide range of classes, seminars, and certification programs. It never hurts to investigate association training options to see if they might benefit you or your crew members. Here are a couple of organizations that sponsor classes aimed at equipment operators:
ACPA Operator Training. The American Concrete Pumping Association (ACPA) has developed a 23-day operator training program to guide contractors in training new pump operators on safe concrete pumping skills and practices. The full version of the program costs $215 for ACPA members ($525 for nonmembers) and includes the training program guide, a trainer/trainee sign-off book, relevant ACPA safety manuals and publications, a study guide and test booklet, DVDs, and corresponding quizzes. If you’re looking to train additional operators, you can buy additional copies of the student materials at $105 for members or $210 for nonmembers.
Keith Bauer, president of Coastal Carolina Pumping Inc., Charlotte, N.C., was instrumental in developing the ACPA course. Bauer says that technological advances haven’t had much of an effect on the training program. “Our safety concerns have intensified, but we use the same training methods as ever,” he says. “The biggest change is that today’s pumps develop a lot more pressure. Years ago, if you weren’t careful with a pump, you’d get concrete on your shoes. Now, it’s a lot more critical to follow the proper safety procedures.” For more information, visit www.concretepumpers.com.
CSDA at the cutting edge. The Concrete Sawing and Drilling Association (CSDA) deals with an equipment-heavy segment of the industry and has also invested heavily in operator training programs. CSDA has developed courses that are offered through the Building Arts Department of St. Petersburg College in Clearwater, Fla., or (for groups of 15 or more) at a contractor’s own facility.
Course offerings include a Cutting Edge class (sawing and drilling basics); introductory classes in wall sawing, slab sawing and drilling, wire sawing, and concrete polishing; and a comprehensive mechanics class for flatwork sawing equipment.
CSDA also offers a variety of online training programs for operators. For more information, visit the website at www.csda.org.
Kenneth A. Hooker is a freelance writer based in Oak Park, Ill.
WOC Educational Programs
World of Concrete 2014, to be held in Las Vegas Jan. 20-24, features an extensive educational program on a broad range of subjects. Bonnie King, senior conference manager for WOC, suggests a number of offerings that can help contractors get a better handle on operating high-tech equipment:
Surveying with Total Stations is a 4.5-hour, hands-on training class that will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 21. Instructors will explain the basic workings of digital total stations used in surveying. Combining classroom instruction, small group demonstrations, and field practice, the class will cover instrument setup, layout calibration setup, and proper handling and care of equipment.
How to Place and Finish Floors is a 4-hour class offered four times on Jan. 21 and 22. Students will receive individual instruction on how to use tools, including hand-held vibratory-screeds, straight edges, bull floats, bump cutters and walk-behind power trowels. They will also learn about the window of finishability and how to read fresh concrete.
New to WOC this year will be a series of Train the Trainer workshops, designed to qualify students as in-house instructors on the safe and proper operation of construction forklifts, aerial and scissor lifts, rigging and signaling.
A number of organizations, including CSDA, ACI, the American Shotcrete Association, and the Concrete Polishing Association of America, also conduct training in conjunction with World of Concrete. For more, visit the Education section of www.worldofconcrete.com.