Cleveland Community College starts heavy equipment operator program to help solve employer workforce needs in Western NC
Six employers in the region served by Cleveland Community College have forecasted the need for at least 160 new heavy equipment operator job openings over the next five years. Heavy equipment operators are certified to drive or control construction equipment necessary to assist in the construction of structures and infrastructure, including bridges, roads, and buildings.
"Golden LEAF funding was instrumental in helping us launch the Heavy Equipment Operator (HEO) program," said Alan Qualls, Program Coordinator at Cleveland Community College. "Funding from Golden LEAF and the college made it possible to purchase six pieces of equipment. With this funding, we were able to purchase equipment that otherwise would have been out of our reach."
In April 2021, the Golden LEAF Board of Directors awarded Cleveland Community College $200,000 to assist with the development of a Heavy Equipment Operator (HEO) training program by providing funding for equipment and a portion of the cost of equipment storage, road tractors, and trailers.
Currently, the average class size is eight students, but they hope to grow it to 12-14 per class. A class of 14 would be the maximum with the amount of equipment for the program.
"We are in our third class," said Qualls. "The total number of students in the program to date is 22. All students thus far have had an offer for a job before graduation or had a job already."
The equipment not only supports HEO training but also provides support for and leverages the college's Commercial Driver's License (CDL) program.
"Students who complete HEO training can also complete the requirements to be tested by Cleveland Community College's commercial truck driver license examiners," said Qualls. "Several pieces of this equipment can also be used in the truck driver training program."
Qualls shared that running a program like this does come with challenges.
"The Heavy Equipment Operator program is a very expensive program, and requires 10-15 acres of land to operate on," said Qualls. "We are working on an Erosion Control Plan which has been difficult because we are not developing land like most companies who use HEO equipment do. We want to work on open dirt and that is difficult to have and contain water run-off."
Qualls added that having a good support system in place helps build programs like the HEO program.
"We have made sure to have a good support group within the county and city governments, as well as private business," said Qualls. "For others trying to start a HEO program, be sure to have plans drawn up, materials on site, and company support."
Qualls is excited about what the program is accomplishing and will be accomplishing in the future.
"I want to thank Golden LEAF for its support for this program and in the future workforce that will be tasked with building our roads, bridges, and buildings in the future," said Qualls.
The Golden LEAF Foundation provides scholarships for students from rural areas to attend the state’s colleges and universities. Students who qualify for the Golden LEAF Scholarship may use it to attend North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities (NCICU)
Recently, Golden LEAF President, Chief Executive Officer Scott T. Hamilton sat down with Peter Hans, President of the President of the University of North Carolina System, via Zoom and filmed the thirteenth edition in a video series called Critical Conversations.