Operating Engineers Pathway students take part in ‘heavy equipment rodeo’

Ezra Merchant operates an excavator with instruction from Tim Ames, Midwest operations manager for Ames Construction, during an Operating Engineers Pathway event at Ames’ Rosemount facility Oct. 15.

Ames Construction hosts hands-on event for Operating Engineers Pathway Oct. 15

ROSEMOUNT, MN — High school students from across the state tested their skill behind the controls of a bulldozer, excavator and more during a “heavy equipment rodeo” at Ames Construction’s Rosemount facility Saturday, Oct. 15.

The hands-on event was for students in the Operating Engineers Pathway program run by Minnesota Virtual Academy and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49. Ames, which is celebrating its 60th year in business, hosted the event for the first time.

“We need the next generation to have exposure to these amazing career opportunities and Ames is happy to open our doors and show them what this industry has to offer,” said Tim Ames, Midwest operations manager for Ames Construction.

Now in its third year, the Pathway program gives students the chance to earn high school, college and apprenticeship credit while exploring careers in heavy equipment operation. Students can take four, one-semester classes online that cover topics from equipment fundamentals to grade and construction math. The online classes offer flexibility, and in-person learning events provide hands-on experience and industry networking opportunities.

Ryland Schmakel, an 11th-grader from Spring Valley, Minnesota, plans to go into equipment operation as a career after he completes the Pathway next year. The Oct. 15 event was his third hands-on experience with the Pathway, and he wants to attend as many as possible.

“There’s a lot of learning involved,” he said. “The people do a great job of teaching you everything you need to know in the field trips. They really provide the knowledge you need to get into this trade.”

The Pathway program is free to ninth- through 12th-graders enrolled in a Minnesota public high school. More than 160 students from across the state are currently enrolled, and graduates of the program have gone on to begin careers as equipment operators.

“There has been a tremendous appetite for this innovative education/industry partnership,” said Jenny Winkelaar, director of workforce and community development for Local 49. “These students are intentionally preparing for a career while in high school. Together we are developing a future world-class workforce.”