The mission of the Heavy Equipment Colleges of America is to offer its students the opportunity to get dirt on their hands, to keep their minds sharp, and to earn very good wages in the heavy equipment and crane industry.
The first schoolhouse opened its doors 15 years ago, and since then it has added six more job training sites with a particular focus on providing an open door for employment to transitioning service members.
“We are committed to being a leading heavy equipment and crane educational institution which offers excellent training that serves our students well,” Bill Keever, the Heavy Equipment Colleges’ West Region’s president, told me.
He added that 60 percent of the colleges’ student are veteran connected, and 45 percent of the employees are as well.
But there is more to this tag line – a rope attached to a lifted load to control its spin or swing – of working with veterans than meets the proverbial eye.
Keever, Heavy Equipment Colleges of America, and Veterans
The commitment to veterans begins with Keever because he is an Army veteran.
“The Army’s values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage are what I live daily,” he said.
“When I joined the military, I didn’t join the Army – I joined a family that happened to call themselves soldiers who call each other ‘brother.’”
After a distinguished career as a member of the Army’s Marksmanship Unit (to include competing in double trap competition in the 2000 Olympics), Keever was asked if he would like to continue to serve at Heavy Equipment Colleges of America.
“When I learned that 60 percent of our students are veterans, I knew this was the right place for me … and I would have an opportunity to give back to those willing to write that blank check to defend the democracy we cherish.”
This attitude pervades the colleges’ seven campuses:
- Conyers, Georgia (about 100 miles from Fort Benning)
- Fayetteville, North Carolina (just outside of Fort Bragg)
- Clarksville, Tennessee (around the corner from Fort Campbell)
- Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (about 80 miles from Fort Sill)
- San Bernardino, California (approximately 85 miles from Camp Pendleton)
- Lakewood, WA (just outside of Joint Base Lewis-McChord)
- Fort Irwin, California (located at the National Training Center).
With what Keever had told me in mind, I climbed into the swing cab of a 30-ton Grove Mobile Hydraulic Rough Terrain Crane.
DeLong’s Lesson in The Cab
After running through a lengthy checklist, Brian DeLong, an Army veteran and experienced crane operator, climbed into the cab, turned the key, and waited a few seconds before the Cummins 530, 160 horsepower, 6.7 liter diesel engine awoke and began to purr.
“Everything we teach our civilian and veteran students,” he told me, “is based on the best professional and comprehensive knowledge in the industry.”
He explained that in the world of heavy equipment, the use of cranes leads the industry.
“The crane is the only piece of equipment that needs certification,” he added, “and although we provide certification on other types of equipment, only the cranes require [it].”
Besides crane training, Heavy Equipment Colleges of America also offers classes on skid-steer loaders, front-end loaders, backhoes, excavators and bulldozers.
DeLong explained to me the workings of the joy sticks and touchscreens, and how they interact in allowing me to lower the outriggers, extend the boom, and to drive the crane.
“With a bit more practical experience,” he said with a wide grin, “and some classroom instruction, you’d pass the course.”
Dominic Sinibaldi stood off to the side and watched as DeLong showed me the ins and outs of heavy crane lifting.
After six years of serving in the Army, he recently separated and began to attend the three week heavy crane course at the Lakewood, Washington campus.
His transition from soldier to licensed crane operator is instructive as to how Heavy Equipment Colleges of America help veterans gain entry into the job market.
“I separated in early October,” he began, “and I just took my certification test this morning, in late October.”
Here’s where the lift into his future begins.
“I was looking for an intriguing career, one that combines critical thinking skills and the willingness to work in the dirt,” Sinibaldi said.
“I found what I want here, and I will have no problem finding a high-paying job that allows me to provide for my family and our future.”
The Walk Back to the Schoolhouse
After climbing down out of the cab, I walked back to the schoolhouse with Keever.
“Once you come to school with Heavy Equipment Colleges of America, you are a member of our family,” he said, “and coupled with the dedication to one’s family is an unwavering loyalty to ensure that every member of the family is successful.”
For an overview of the heavy equipment industry click here.
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