A donation by a Vernon firm to a heavy equipment operator program at Thompson Rivers University is expected to produce more highly trained workers to fill shortages in forestry and mining.
Great West Equipment, based in Vernon, donated $373,000 worth of forest-related heavy equipment to the program.
"It's our chance to give back and benefit by having current-model machines in here," said Great West representative Wayne Palmer.
The eight-week certification program is aimed at low-skilled workers who have not been on unemployment insurance in the past three years. It trains operators on safety and the basics of the skills they will need to operate heavy equipment, whether in forestry, mining or construction.
Volvo representatives were also on hand at the announcement to demonstrate an $85,000 heavy-equipment simulator - which rocks and rolls and has the same controls as real machines - that it will loan TRU for a short period.
Its operator for a demonstration Wednesday was student Tyrell Redan, who enrolled a year ago when TRU first offered the program. He has now moved on to a heavy-duty mechanics program at the university.
"It opened my eyes to the mechanical aspect," said Redan, who moved recently to Kamloops after working as a fisheries technician in Lillooet.
Lindsay Langill, TRU's dean of grades and technology, said the program was added a year ago due to high demand.
"Our forests have opened up again but the workers from before are no longer there. There's a huge need for people."
The university will enroll 24 people in the fall semester. They will learn on site at a logging block in the Savona area.