If you’ve found yourself struggling to find qualified heavy equipment operators, you’re not alone. Companies across North America are having trouble filling these jobs.
Three successful contractors share their advice for filling heavy equipment operator jobs — and how to train and retain operators once they’re hired.
The following contractors participated in our roundtable:
- Jack Henderson-Adams, Western Earthworks (Florence, Mass.)
- Shane Hiett, Hiett Logging (Burlington, Wash.)
- Chaise Ireland, Conestoga Contracting Group (Elmira, Ontario)
Q: How does your company recruit new heavy equipment operators?
Jack: Many of our operators come in and apply without us having to recruit by just seeing our social media. Many of them come in or are referred by our current employees.
Shane: Most of the time it’s word of mouth, but we have been trying to use social media as it’s become more prominent in everyone’s life.
Chaise: Recruitment of any team member starts with a long-standing reputation of being a fair person in business. Years of follow-through and successful retention strategies naturally lead to more prospects who seek out the Conestoga Contracting team.
Q: What are your biggest challenges in recruiting new operators?
Jack: Some people think everyone is an operator. We understand that there are equipment operators and there are equipment drivers. We emphasize honesty in their experience levels because it will be obvious where they stand on the first day in the field.
Shane: Some new operators lack an understanding of how a logging operation works or how the machines operate. Anyone can get in a machine and move levers and buttons. There’s so much more to it than that for production and safety.
Chaise: Communication of expectations in a way that all prospective candidates understand.
Q: Once heavy equipment operators are hired, what training does your company offer?
Jack: New hire operators go through a two-hour training in our office. That is followed by a walk-around and inspection, and training on all the different types of equipment we have in the field. We have gone so far as to send operators to our dealers for training on certain equipment.
Shane: We show our new operators the basic machine controls and concepts. Then we let the new operators get in the seat and practice to get comfortable with the equipment. We give them pointers with explanations and stop them if we have concerns about safety or damage.
Chaise: Our new operators usually have three-plus years of experience when we hire them. We provide training at our equipment storage yard. We ask the operator to spend four to six hours performing various activities to get used to the equipment. They are required to go through a training program within three months of employment with a service provider who trains our operators on proper equipment tie-down methods.
Q: How can our society encourage and promote trade schools and apprenticeship programs that provide opportunities for future operators?
Jack: We need to spend more time engaging kids in high school about working in the trades. So many kids are being pushed into college. Some of them aren’t ready for it, or they’re just not the classroom type.
Shane: We need to bring back vocational programs in our high schools. For example, start an FFA forestry team or a woodsmen team. Not every kid is cut out for a four-year college program for a degree they will never use. A logging company in our area has been trying to get involved in the local high school. The company offers tours in the woods and attends job fairs at high schools.
Chaise: We need to promote a level of respect for all jobs, both trades and other careers, with the understanding that we all need each other. There needs to be more discussion about realistic expectations in the field of construction.
Q: What educational opportunities are there in your area for aspiring heavy equipment operators?
Jack: There are not many in our area other than the local trade school. I could see a direct benefit to contractors partnering with brands like Doosan and going into high schools to talk to kids about the amazing technologies that are available and what the future looks like with heavy equipment.
Shane: There is nothing for forestry in our area. The University of Idaho and Oregon State University have a couple of programs that are geared toward that direction. I’m sure the local construction union in the Seattle area has some kind of training program.
Chaise: We encourage everyone we hire to have a heavy equipment ticket from a reputable school. In my opinion, the most valuable education you can get is by doing your research on which companies are good to work for and which aren’t.
Q: How do you retain existing heavy equipment operators?
Jack: Retaining operators depends on the person. We make a point to get to know our employees and our operators on a personal level because everyone is different. Everyone prioritizes their needs differently, and we try to cater to what each person might need.
Shane: We try to update machines and work trucks as often as we can financially afford it. We started offering medical insurance this year. We do our best to keep everyone happy and enjoying the job they do.
Chaise: We follow through on our commitments, provide constant training, respect our employees, provide newer equipment and give consistent team-building techniques. But most of all, a clear expectation on what the deliverables are and a clear communication on KPIs so they know the overall performance and where we need to improve.
Looking for more great advice for new heavy equipment operators? See our “Heavy Equipment Safety Tips: What Operators Should Know.”
Recruitment of any team member starts with a long-standing reputation of being a fair person in business. Years of follow-through and successful retention strategies naturally lead to more prospects who seek out the Conestoga Contracting team. "