A section of the Prince William County Landfill Complex will soon become a training ground for people who are learning to become heavy equipment operators.
Public agencies and private contractors are having trouble finding heavy equipment operators to meet the region's demands for construction and maintenance. To help meet the need, the Northern Virginia Community College Workforce Development Division is working with the Heavy Equipment Contractors Association to develop a program to train and license heavy equipment operators to meet regional needs.
Representatives from the two organizations contacted the county and asked if the Prince William County Public Works Department would be willing to be a partner in the endeavor and provide space at the landfill for on-site training in the field. The landfill has sections of cleared land that are not currently in use that could be used for training.
Since the County's Strategic Plan supports the increase in the number of people who receive training through the Workforce Development Center, the Prince William Board of County supervisors recently authorized an agreement with the community college to allow the land to be used for a heavy equipment-operator training program.
Ken Garrison, Executive Director of the Heavy Construction Contractors Association, said the program at the community college couldn't provide the training to qualify operators without the space. "Without the landfill giving us a place where these folks can dig a hole and fill it back in, you're stymied as to how we're going to do this work. That really is where the county is stepping in and helping the community college."
Garrison said there are roughly 2,500 unfilled heavy equipment operator jobs in the region with the shortage expected to double as projects on Interstate 66 and Interstate 395 begin. With the jobs averaging $65,000 to $70,000 a year, that would mean an influx of $325 million into the economy annually and the money would stay in the local economy, Garrison said.
Robbyn Smith, operations manager for the Heavy Construction Contractors Association, said association members have agreed to lend equipment to the community college for training. Smith said the cost of lending the machines to the community college and transporting the equipment to the landfill represents considerable cost to association members. Moving the machines to and from a site can cost $1,000. Rental fees for the equipment can range between $100 and $250 an hour, depending on the machine. "They're doing all that for free for NOVA to be able to do this."
Steven Partridge, the Northern Community College Vice President of Workforce Development, said value for the use of the landfill is immeasurable for the community college. "It's huge. How else do you get the real-world experience in Northern Virginia where there's not that much land?"
Partridge also said the county and the Department of Public Works were in the front of the line to create the partnership. "They stood up early and said, 'Hey, we can do it here.' They've been great partners in this. We're happy to work with them and have that facility available for our use."
Virginia Governor Terry McAullife spoke at a ribbon cutting ceremony to christen the program and said he was ready to see the work begin. "I want to see shovels in the ground. I want to see these Caterpillars moving out here, these backhoes, these bulldozers. This is really important to me."
Prince William County Solid Waste Division Chief Tom Smith said letting the operators train on a couple of cleared acres at the back of the landfill could pay off for the county. "We have the same issues finding heavy equipment operators that the contractors do. This will help us. If we can train people to be heavy equipment operators, maybe we can hire them."
Smith said the two-acre training sites may move around at the 1,000-acre landfill, but the training won't interfere with the work going on there. "They'll be away from the actual main operations where trucks are coming in and out. We'll give them a spot out back where there's not a whole lot of activity."