By Greg Bennett
A group of Shelburne Regional High School students were loading, pushing, digging and shoveling tonnes of rocks and dirt last week, all without breaking a sweat.
The students were taking part in a simulation training program operated by Dexter Construction, a Bedford based contracting firm.
The state-of-the-art program has been developed to help the company train new heavy equipment operators and to assess those already in their employ.
The company also brings the training simulator to schools across the province to introduce young people to the field.
David Steele, manager of program development for the company, says the province will need many more heavy equipment operators over the next decade as the aging workforce begins to retire.
Although the simulators cost many thousands to purchase, Steele says the company will save money over time as they help train operators to work more safely and efficiently, all without risking or tying up valuable equipment or spending money on fuel or added maintenance.
“The main goal with these is to train people who want to work for our company,” he said.
A secondary goal is to promote the heavy equipment operator field to a new generation.
Most of the Shelburne students who tried the simulator program failed the test, and lost the company thousands of virtual dollars through equipment damage and inefficient work. At the end of each simulation the student was given a dollar amount of money made or lost during their seven-minute shift. Losses averaged almost $10,000 per student.
“It definitely a skill to do this,” said Steele, noting that the students performed tasks more than four times slower than an experienced operator.
The simulators provided experience on three different pieces of equipment, a loader, a bulldozer and an excavator.
Steele said he was surprised to note that students who had some farm tractor experience, especially those often did better on the simulators.
The extremely realistic scenarios included stunning graphics, sounds and even appropriate movements of the chairs the students were sitting on.
Steele noted the simulators can also be programmed to provide multiple scenarios that can provide different distractions or even equipment malfunctions.
A student tries out the heavy equipment simulator.