Mount Baker Secondary School students got a taste of life as a heavy duty equipment operator last week, thanks to Project Heavy Duty.
The project was brought to the students by a combined effort between the College of the Rockies, School District 5, WorkSafeBC the City of Cranbrook and local businesses that donated the use of equipment, plus professional tradesmen to instruct the students. It ran from May 9 to 11.
The program is all about safety, said Jeff McKay, occupational safety officer for WorkSafeBC. He was joined at the Project Heavy Duty site by fellow OSO Mary Jaye Salmon.
"Our focus of course, is the safety culture," McKay said.
Each student had to submit an application and only 24 were selected to attend from grades 11 and 12. The program was free, and students only had to provide their own work boots. WorkSafeBC gave them each a safety vest and hard hat to be kept after the program. SD5 has decided to rotate the program between Cranbrook and the Elk Valley every year from now on.
The students began the four-day program by obtaining their Occupational First Aid Level 1 (OFA) plus participating in safety talks. The course is worth two credits towards graduation.
"We try to get them as much certification as possible," McKay said.
WorkSafeBC delivered an orientation to workplace safety, and the Cranbrook Fire Department stopped by to give a workshop on fire extinguisher use. Local businesses even donated extinguishers for the class to try out.
Various local businesses in Cranbrook and fromas far as Williams Lake, B.C. contributed equipment and time to the event. Finning, MacKay Contracting and Teck Coal hosted two barbecues to feed the hungry students; FortisBC did a demonstration on finding underground utilities and students got the chance to tour the heavy duty mechanics program at College of the Rockies.
After all the training, the students gathered at the city's Public Works Yard to try out various heavy equipment like bulldozers, excavators, man lifts, Bobcats and more.
Peter Miller, branch manager for Finning's Cranbrook office, attended Thursday's class, and the company offered up equipment and time for the students. He said the trades used to be a career people fell into, but it is now tough to break into it without some previous experience or training.
"There is a good future for operators in this valley," he said.
Some of the heavy duty equipment donated for use was worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. A similar edition of Project Heavy Duty that ran last year in the Elk Valley was calculated at about $100,000 worth of man hours and equipment time.
The students get real hands-on experience running equipment with the aid of an industry professional. They get the chance to ask questions beyond how to drive and operate the equipment. McKay said the students are encouraged to ask about salaries, what the day to day job is like, and what the actual equipment is worth.
Miller said programs like this are important because it gives students a chance to see and try what's out there.
"If kids don't get exposed to this, they don't know about it," he said.
While there's a lot of learning and questions to be had, McKay said they keep things fun, safe and entertaining for the group, and really let them try the equipment themselves. He calls it an "informal but controlled environment."
"Safety's a priority here," he said.
Project Heavy Duty brought out more than just the 24 students. Mount Baker's photography class stopped by in the morning to do a project, and McKay said he is looking forward to seeing what they come up with. Hundreds of elementary school students toured the site throughout the day Thursday as well. Miller said it's great to see their faces light up and their wide eyes as they get to see heavy equipment working up close.
"(It's) something they don't get to see very often."