Training program teaches women to operate heavy machinery

October 8, 2010 - 8:04am

An exciting opportunity is available for women on Vancouver Island who would like to explore a non-traditional career.

Vancouver Island University (VIU) in Nanaimo will be offering a 20-week program to train women to become heavy equipment operators.

“It’s a great opportunity for women who want to learn how to operate excavators, bull dozers and graders, and other heavy machinery for employment in construction, road building, mining, forestry, agriculture and public works fields,” said Stu Siefert, chair of the Heavy Equipment Operator (HEO) program at VIU.

Twelve seats are available for this intensive program that runs November 29 to April 29, 2011. Tuition, textbooks and other support is available for applicants who qualify.

“The program is packed with theory and hands-on training, and includes a variety of essential industry safety courses and tickets,” added Siefert. Students will be given the opportunity to obtain their Class 3 driver’s licence, and earn certificates in first aid, traffic control, H2S Alive, airbrakes, road builder foundation, and heavy equipment operator technician.

Each student will get extended seat time in excavators, bulldozers, front end loaders, graders and articulated rock trucks, and have the opportunity to write Industry Training Authority (ITA) examinations to begin their apprenticeship as a Heavy Equipment Operator.

“Part of our mandate is to assist students in finding jobs once they graduate,” Siefert said. Entry level positions typically pay between $25 and $30 per hour.”

Interviews for prospective students will be held the middle of October. “One of the main things we’ll be looking for is whether applicants are willing to relocate to where the jobs are,” said Siefert.

The HEO program, which began in 1957, is based at VIU’s Timberlands Road field training site. An average of 10 women per year sign up for the program but Siefert is hoping to increase those numbers. “Women are underrepresented in trades generally and programs like this will help balance things out.”

Denise Gallant worked in veterinary medicine and as a resident care attendant in the health care field before starting the HEO program earlier this year.

“I never considered a career in trades,” said Gallant, who graduates from the HEO program this month. “By chance, I went to a trades fair with a friend. I listened to the information session on HEO and something clicked. I enjoy heavy machinery, I love the outdoors and I like the idea of a good paycheque. The HEO program is a perfect fit.”

Gallant, the only female in a class of 15, said instructors and classmates have been extremely supportive. “I came into this program with zero terminology or knowledge of the industry but everyone has been extremely patient. They’ve taken me under their wings.”

As for the future, Gallant already has job offers. “I’m looking forward to getting out into the industry to get some experience,” she said. “I highly recommend this program to other women. It’s a great career choice.”

Funding for the November HEO women’s program is provided by the Industry Training Authority through the Labour Market Agreement between governments of BC and Canada.

Information sessions will be held for prospective students at VIU’s Nanaimo campus on October 21, 2:30 to 4:30 pm, Building 180, Room 134, and at the Cowichan Campus in Duncan on October 21, 6:30 to 7:30 pm, in Building 602, Room 206.

For more information or to apply, visit the website at or contact HEO program assistant Tara Mitchell at or or call 1-888-920-2221 ext 6227 or 250-740-6227.

Tags: In the Community