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How NOVA, Prince William County Landfill are working together to create a pipeline of new construction workers for the region

Construction of Route 28 at Vint Hill Road [Photo: Prince William County]

When it comes to talented workers to fill open construction jobs, there just aren’t enough to go around.

Heavy equipment operators are high-demand in the Washington, D.C. region due to new and ongoing construction initiatives in the area. Construction projects like the development and maintenance of buildings, airports, gas and oil pipelines, tunnels, bridges, and roads.

Two road construction initiatives — adding toll lanes on Interstates 66 and 395 in Northern Virginia will create an additional demand for local heavy equipment operators.

The I- 66 project dubbed, Transform 66 – Outside the Beltway will modify nearly 23 miles of I-66 providing two express lanes alongside three regular lanes from I-495 to Route 29 in Gainesville. There will be dedicated express lane access points and space in the median reserved for future transit. The I-66 express lanes are scheduled to open in 2022.

The I-395 project includes extending the Express Lanes for eight miles north from Turkeycock Run near Edsall Road to Eads Street in Arlington. The project will also convert the two existing HOV lanes and add an additional third lane to express lanes. These newly extended lanes are on track to open in the Fall of 2019 and the entire I-395 project is set for a summer 2020 completion.

“Two thousand five hundred heavy equipment jobs go unfilled in the region due to a shortage of heavy equipment operators. This shortage is expected to double as projects on Interstate 66 and Interstate 395 begin,” stated Ken Garrison, Executive Director of the Heavy Construction Contractor Association, in an article on Prince William County’s government website. “With the jobs averaging $65,000 to $70,000 a year, that would mean an influx of $325 million into the economy annually and the money would stay in the local economy,” said Ken Garrison,

In an effort to help fill this job demand in our region, Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) Workforce Development is creating a six-week Heavy Equipment Operator Certification Program to provide students will the skills necessary to safely operate heavy equipment in the construction industry. Melanie Stover, Director of Business Engagement for NOVA said the curriculum development assessment began out of a request from local businesses and the Heavy Construction Contractors Association (HCCA).

“The HCCA estimates the need for heavy equipment operators to be in the thousands for our area, due to contracted construction projects. Heavy equipment operators not only work on buildings but also infrastructure projects, such as road and bridges, and land development.”

Partnering with Construction Industry Experts

NOVA Workforce Development partnered with Mike Steigerwald a Training Specialist from The Lane Construction Corporation on the development of their Heavy Equipment Operator Program curriculum.

“Steigerwald was highly recommended by the HCCA for his focus on equipment safety and industry certifications,” said Esther Perantoni, Director of Curriculum Design and Implementation for NOVA Workforce. “We didn’t want to just create a program – we wanted to create a pipeline that would give students the certifications they need to succeed in the construction industry and provide area businesses properly trained resources.”

Stover agrees. “We want to provide our students a jumpstart to their career and an accelerated approach to the construction industry. We already have businesses like Atlantic Contracting and Materials Inc., Superior Paving Corporation and SW Rogers Company wanting to interview our students towards the end of our program for jobs.”

Asked what the Heavy Equipment Operator Program entails, Perantoni said, “Students will graduate from our program with the following National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) certifications: NCCER Core, NCCER Heavy Equipment Level 1 and VA Basic Flagger. These are national and industry-wide certifications which are a great value to our students.”

Collaborating with local resources

“Students will be able to get hands-on experience using various pieces of heavy equipment at Prince William County Landfill,” said Stover.

The landfill already provides local fire departments training in the trench for confined space rescues.

“The Solid Waste Division is pleased to be a resource for job training and economic development in the County,” Deborah Campbell, Public Relations Specialist for Prince William County Solid Waste Division said.

“We often work with universities such as George Mason, Virginia Tech and James Madison, as well as Prince William County schools on projects that help make the landfill a valuable community resource and learning experience,” said Campbell.

Empowering students

NOVA Workforce’s first Heavy Equipment Operator Program is on track to launch in February or March of 2018. Classes will have a ratio of eight students to one instructor. Program participants are required to be 18 years old, have a valid driver’s license and have transportation to get to various work sites.

“We already have people waiting in the queue for our program to begin. Veterans, women support organizations and local skills sourcing centers have all shown interest in this new program. We foresee this initial program as being a launch pad for additional heavy equipment operator programs as we continue to move forward” said Peratoni.

Interested participants will be able to find information and certification costs on NOVA’s Workforce Development website in the coming months once the program details are solidified.

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