From hands-on training to the workforce

The partnership between CCHS and BTI provides opportunities for students to gain real-world experience in heavy equipment operation that prepares them for life beyond high school.

Dust clouds could be seen off Lamonta Road Wednesday afternoon, as dirt was being moved by a dozer, excavator, wheel loader, min excavator and skid-steer.

This activity was being propagated by heavy equipment operators from Crook County High School, who were part of a heavy equipment training through Baker Technical Institute (BTI). Six students have spent a total of 120 hours learning both simulation classroom activities and hands-on field work, as they learn the operation, safety, and preventive maintenance for heavy equipment.

Baker Technical Institute is a leading provider of Career Technical Education programs focused on developing the next generation of skilled workers, technology innovators, entrepreneurs and community leaders in rural communities. Headquartered in Baker City, BTI offers cutting-edge education and training, leading to certification in high-wage, high-demand careers, such as agricultural sciences, building trades, natural resources/environmental sciences, engineering, health services, welding, heavy equipment operation, truck driving, and manufacturing.

Dawson Vanderwiele, instructor for the simulator training course held in the mobile trailer for Baker Technical Institute, demonstrates a large equipment training unit she teaches during the 80-minute course. She pointed out that when they finish the simulator training, students immediately get on the equipment and begin operating it efficiently. Vanderwiele noted that two-thirds of the training for the level one certification for heavy equipment is spent on the simulator.

Baker Technical Institute is pleased to announce a partnership with Crook County School District to provide specialized training for local students. Over the previous few weeks, high school students in Prineville learned to operate heavy equipment and became more familiar with the workforce needs of a thriving industry.

“We are thrilled to be able to provide this opportunity for the students at Crook County High School,” says Doug Dalton, BTI president. “Students have lost so much this past year and a half, especially when it comes to hands-on learning like career and technical courses. Crook County did better than most when it comes to keeping students involved, but it still was far from a normal learning environment.”

He went on to say, “The goal of this training is to get these students a valuable certification and position them to enter the construction workforce in a high-wage career. This is a career path that so many students from our rural communities want to pursue versus an expensive traditional college route. The trades are an outstanding option right now with wages and benefits higher than ever, and the least amount of people entering the field.”

Sandy Mitchell, program coordinator for BTI, commented that in addition to heavy equipment, they offer trucking, welding and nursing through the institute. They articulated and trained in 11 high schools in Oregon during the past year.

“We will go in and train heavy equipment operators at the high school level,” she added. “It’s been great to partner with Crook County High School and to be able to bring this as a summer program to their students. They have been a great partner.”

The students spent the first two weeks (80 hours) with the simulator with a simulator instructor. They do their last 40 hours on the equipment doing their hands-on training. When they complete the training, they receive a certificate of completion. It is a level one training for the students. Instructors evaluate the tasks the students are doing to determine their proficiency. There is also an introductory level and a level two certification.

“Anyone that goes to any operator training school or anything (similar), you get a certificate of completion, and it tells everything that you have done, your hours that you have completed, and how well you did on every piece of equipment,” added Mitchell.

BTI focuses on getting people industry certifications and getting back into the workforce. She indicated that in Baker High School, they have a full-time high school course in the construction trades, including the BTI heavy equipment course.

Dawson Vanderwiele teaches the simulator training for the mobile trailer. Vanderwiele noted that two-thirds of the training for the level one certification for heavy equipment is spent on the simulator.

Her family has had an excavation and sand and gravel company business for 32 years in Baker. BTI came into Baker City when she was a junior in high school in Baker. She was the youngest person and first female trained to be a cat simulator instructor for operators. She has been doing this for four-and-a-half years, while finishing high school and college.

“They say the time spent on a simulator is equal to two times that length of time on the real equipment,” said Vanderwiele. “So, the two weeks that they spend here on the simulator is an equivalent to four weeks on the actual equipment.”

She added that when they finish the simulator training, they immediately get on the equipment and begin operating it efficiently. She gave the example of a loader.

“They get in and they know exactly what to do and they go to pick up dirt. They are getting full scoops immediately, and we watch and barely even have to critique most of their operations, because they learn it all properly and efficiently in here. They get to move dirt and enjoy it, and we challenge them and try to help them learn more.”

She went on to say, “The best part is when you know you have provided a student with a new opportunity in life, because most all of our students otherwise would never have gone into the heavy equipment industry at all.”

Vanderwiele emphasized that they also partner with Department of Humans Services (DHS) and correctional facilities for youth. The mobile trailer is on the road all year long.

Jake Huffman, CCHS assistant principal, also commented that not all students choose to go to college, and this impacts their entire life – and this is a career choice.

“The thing that is most impressive for me, is they go right from this class, and they can join the workforce right away with the proper qualifications. The employers have confidence to know that they have done the right things to be ready for the job,” said Huffman. “A lot of the kids who are doing this have commented how impactful this was, and how useful and relevant it was. That is the thing I like the most about it—is it is an immediate transition from taking a class, to getting credit, to getting certifications and joining the workforce right away. BTI has been amazing to work with,” Huffman concluded.

“Crook County School District is committed to growing our Career and Technical Education programs and providing opportunities for students to gain real-world experience that prepares them for life beyond high school. We are excited about the partnership with BTI and look forward to taking our CTE offerings to the next level,” said Crook County School District Superintendent Dr. Sara Johnson.

The next heavy equipment operator course for the public is scheduled for September, and registration is now open. For more information about BTI courses or to enroll in one of the various other programs, visit or call 541-524-2651 and talk to an enrollment specialist or student success coach.

Original Article by Ramona McCallister, Pamplin Media Group, August 03, 2021:

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