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Instructors from TEEX’s Public Sector Training Division have been out west for the past few months. They have been training workers in heavy equipment operation as part of a displaced worker program.

In September, Phelps-Dodge closed down a copper smelter plant in Playas, N.M., putting more than 400 employees out of work. Phelps-Dodge, in conjunction with Western New Mexico University and the New Mexico State Department of Labor, created the Phelps-Dodge program to teach new skills to out-of-work employees.

Although some employees found work in other locations, many did not want to leave the area. The Phelps-Dodge program is offering training in a variety of skills including truck driving, computer skills and heavy equipment operation.

Western New Mexico University contracted with TEEX to conduct two eight-week programs training employees in heavy equipment operation for highway construction, said Mike Griffith, TEEX training specialist.

“TEEX heard through a contact that Western New Mexico University was looking for someone to teach heavy equipment classes,” Griffith said. “When we first began teaching the classes in October, we had 26 students enrolled. Two students found work at another copper plant in the area, so we ended up with 24 graduates.”

Following graduation on Dec. 17, the Associated General Contractors of Texas and New Mexico recruited students for jobs in heavy equipment operation. Griffith said everyone involved was pleased with the training, and TEEX has been asked to expand the program to other sites due to a shortage of equipment operators in New Mexico.

“After training through the Phelps-Dodge program, one thing led to another and TEEX was contracted by the Department of Labor in New Mexico to offer three more courses beginning on Jan. 24,” Griffith said. “New Mexico is a long way from home for our instructors, but everyone has really appreciated the training we’ve done.”

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