"It takes a unique kind of person to become a pump operator," says Jack Brundage of Brundage Bone Concrete Pumping, Kent, Wash.

First a new operator has to learn how to use the machine correctly and safely. Manufacturers want operators to make their equipment look good, even essential. Pump operators must combine the skills of a large truck driver with the fine touch of a computer game whiz. "Operators have to be experts at operating three very different devices: the truck, the boom, and the pump," says Bob Weatherton of the Concrete Pump Store, Claremont, Calif. "It takes a lot of training."

New pump operators can get this training on the job, from pump manufacturers, in technical schools, and from the American Concrete Pumping Association.

  • On the job: Traditionally, the pumping company does the training itself. Larger pump companies have designated trainers—usually very experienced operators or mechanics. Smaller companies use an experienced operator for training.
  • Manufacturer training: Most pump manufacturers provide some initial operating training as well as service training. Often the local distributor conducts this training.

Of all the pump manufacturers, Schwing conducts the most ambitious training program. Courses at three levels are held two or three times each year at Schwing's training center in St. Paul, Minn. Schwing's newest training innovation is its Virtual Boom—a very realistic concrete pumping computer game. Using a real remote pump and boom controller, this computerized pump is extraordinarily lifelike. Other software packages teach the operator how to determine if all systems and controls are working properly, and how to adjust the sensitivity of the controls to personal preferences.

For pump mechanics, Schwing has extensive service software to help troubleshoot a problem.

Putzmeister also conducts an extensive schedule of classes at its headquarters in Racine, Wis., oriented toward maintaining and servicing their equipment.

  • Technical colleges: With support from Pumpstar Concrete Pumps and several local ready-mix companies, Autry Technology Center in Enid, Okla., plans to start five students on a 3- to 4-month-long program that will be computer-based but led by an instructor. This is the only program currently functioning.
  • American Concrete Pumping Association: In its continuing efforts to raise the level of professionalism across the industry, ACPA has developed programs and materials that emphasize pump safety and efficiency, including a checklist, videotapes, safety posters, and ACPA's pump operator certification program.

Training of pump operators improves the quality of concrete and makes the jobsite safer. But training is also defensive—ACPA estimates that the average accident costs $250,000 and possibly much more if the courts get involved. When there's a problem on a job, or someone gets hurt, and the lawyers drag everyone into court, a documented training program gives pumping companies and manufacturers a much stronger hand.