TEEX and the Fort Worth Independent School District are breaking ground with a new program that trains high school students for careers in the highway construction industry.
Twelve students completed the pilot course, which was conducted at TEEX’s heavy equipment training field at Eagle Mountain Lake, during the 2000-2001 school year. Most of the program graduates have begun working as heavy equipment operators, while three are planning to attend college, said Mike Griffith, training specialist with the heavy equipment operator program of the Engineering, Utilities and Public Works Training Institute.
The pilot program is the only high school highway construction program ever funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration, Griffith said. An outgrowth of the popular high school career days, the program is also sponsored by the Associated General Contractors of Texas and the Texas Department of Transportation.
Fourteen students from Trimble Technical High School in Fort Worth are enrolled in the program for the 2001-2002 school year. Wade Jameson, the highway construction teacher at the school, transports the students to Eagle Mountain Lake and co-teaches the class with Griffith.
The students are divided into two groups and each group travels to the Eagle Mountain Lake training field every other day to learn to operate a variety of heavy equipment, such as the backhoe, motor grader, excavator, loader and dozer. The students go on field trips to construction sites and also learn about preventive maintenance, safety, estimating, surveying and basic soil mechanics. And they complete the requirements to qualify for OSHA certification.
“We have a great group of kids,” says Griffith, “and they want to be challenged all the time. They are anxious to learn.”
In addition to giving the graduates a skill that guarantees them a starting salary of $10 to $15 an hour, the program also provides highway construction employees and heavy equipment operators for an industry that has a severe labor shortage that some estimates place at 25,000 workers.
“The skills I’ve learned in this class have prepared me to get a good job when I graduate. I have already had several good job offers,” said 2001 graduate Freddie Barela.
Dr. Betty Herring of Fort Worth ISD spearheaded the effort to write and submit the proposal to the Federal Highway Administration, Griffith said. Even though the agency had never funded this type of project before, they liked the idea of working with high schools, he added.
A team of officials from the Federal Highway Administration recently visited Eagle Mountain Lake and Trimble Technical High School to evaluate the pilot program, Griffith said.
“They want to take the program to a national level, so we’ll be working with Fort Worth ISD to put together a package that tells how to get a program started in your community and who should be involved, such as local contractors, dealers and trade associations,” he said.