Women learning to operate heavy equipment

A new Olds College program is helping women get the skills they need to drive heavy equipment.

A new Olds College program is helping women get the skills they need to drive heavy equipment.

The program is a partnership between Olds College and Women Building Futures, a charitable organization that helps women get started in the construction trades.

Fifteen students from all over Western Canada started taking the new 17-week program as of June 1. The initiative gives women time in the classroom at the Women Building Futures Petro-Canada Training Facility in Edmonton and hands-on training at a Sureway Construction site in Villeneuve, north of Edmonton. The company donated both land and heavy machinery to allow the women to do their training there.

Women Building Futures first offered a journeywoman start program — which it continues to have — giving women a chance to explore if a construction trade was for them. Then a little over a year ago the organization contacted Olds College about offering a heavy equipment operator program.

“It’s still very much a man’s world out there, as much as we think we’re in 2009 and there are no differences any more. In fact, there are,” said JudyLynn Archer, president and CEO of Women Building Futures. “Many women work and earn below the poverty line.”

Archer said a recent survey showed that women going through the program went from making an average pay of around $1,600 a month to $4,300 a month. She said the Women Building Futures’ programs were started with the idea that if women could learn how to do trades they could also start to make decent money and participate in the economy in the province more effectively.

As part of the program the women also have workplace culture conditioning, which shows them how to fit in and get the job done in a more male-dominated environment.

Dick Thomson, chair of the School of Trades and Career Studies at Olds College, said although the economy has slowed in the past year, industry leaders still want the college to train students because when the economy is doing well again they’ll need the operators. “There are still going to be numerous folks retiring in five to 10 years and there are not a lot of people are coming in and choosing this,” Thomson said.

There will be two more intakes of 12 students in Edmonton next school year and the program could eventually spread to other places in the province.

Student Ivanka Haly, 41, started taking the heavy equipment operator program on June 1 after working in food service.

Haly said she wanted a career that she could build on. She also wanted to show her 17-year-old son Justin that people can go back to school at any age.

“All of the women in this course are so pumped they’ve been given this opportunity,” Haly said. “All of them are so focused. We all want this.”

For more information on Women Building Futures’ programs phone 1-866-452-1201.

sobrien@bprda.wpengine.com

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