By Jill Hayward – Barriere Star/Journal
Watching kids rock while operating heavy machinery is a treat not everyone gets to experience, but once you have, you understand how important School District 73’s Heavy Metal Rocks program is to our youth.
The Heavy Metal Rocks Project provides SD73 students with a unique opportunity to explore the wide variety of rewarding career choices as heavy equipment operators in the construction industry. The program is designed to provide on-the-job experience to students as they work with big machinery, providing career options than those normally offered in the public school system.
This year, Heavy Metal Rocks celebrated its tenth anniversary this April by welcoming a select group of twenty-six SD73 grade 11 and 12 students from Kamloops, Barriere and Clearwater into the program which completed this past weekend at the T’Kemlups Indian Band gravel pit in Kamloops. There were 57 applications submitted for consideration, which includes a mandate to include females and First Nations students.
North Thompson Valley students participating from Barriere were Dawson Huber and Daniel Stonehouse; and from Clearwater, Ally Watson.
Prior to working in the gravel pit, students and their parents had received a complete overview of the project. To prepare themselves for the day, these young workers received hazardous materials and work site safety training. They also completed their Occupational First Aid, Level 1 certification outside of class time.
During the three day Heavy Metal Rocks held last weekend the students (equipped with hard hats and steel-toed boots) rotated through different stations under the direction of experienced operators, experiencing 13 different types of heavy construction equipment worth millions of dollars. The stations included; wood processing, powerline truck, hydro vac truck, rock drill, skidder, excavator, dozer, packer, crane, zoom boom, rubber tired hoe, and a Telehandler simulator.
It took more than 50 companies and sponsors, along with a large number of individuals volunteer hours, equipment, and supplies, to make this program a success.
One of 11 major sponsors was the Lower North Thompson Community Forest Society (LNTCFS), and society chair Harley Wright was one of the volunteers onsite at this years event.
“The kids apply and are then interviewed,” explained Wright about the Heavy Metal Rocks program, “They go through a fairly extensive application; they don’t accept just anybody, and they also have to be going into a career in Trades.”
Wright says their is a shortage of workers in the Trades.
“There are not enough of our young people taking an interest in the Trades,” said Wright, “We are short of operators all across the province.”
Asked why there was such a shortage in Trades workers, Wright answered, “My own personal experience has shown that everybody encourages our young people to get a university education, and as a result they are not going into the Trades as a career. But there is a real need for workers in Trades.”
Wrights says sometimes it takes up to four years to learn a trade, half in experience and half in schooling.
“Some trades take less time, such as six months for zoom boom, or a crane takes about eight months due to the operator having to learn to be able to figure out the weights that are being lifted.
“The Heavy Metal Rocks program is good because these students can go from never having driven a crane to driving a crane, or doing some safety training and then they are in a bucket going up a pole to do such things as hydro,” said Wright.
As Wright took this reporter on a tour of the Heavy Metal Rocks site we visited many of the 13 stations where students were operating heavy equipment in assigned tasks under watchful instructors and mentors. We found Clearwater’s Ally Watson operating a Ranger Rock Pilot 800 drill into position and then drilling into solid rock with the machine.Barriere’s Dawson Huber was getting his first instruction on how to operate an extend a boom forklift, and Daniel Stonehouse was learning the skill of driving a Tigercat skidder up a steep hill where he would pick up logs with the back of the skidder and then bring them down to a drop off point to be processed at another station.
Wright explained that the wood processing station was under the sponsorship and guidance of the LNTCFS, with numerous North Thompson Valley sponsors contributing equipment (which included a processor, log splitter, sawmill, loader/trailer, and skidder), wood for processing, and a number of dedicated volunteers. Sponsors included; Defiance Contracting, Stamer Logging, Rilcoe Contracting, Tolko Mill, Take-A-Look Trucking (Darrel Bunting), K&G Contracting (Van Sickle), and Waddlegger Logging and Construction Ltd. Volunteer operators from the North Thompson included Rick Proulx and Jack Trevor. Thompson Valley Awards from Louis Creek donated the cost of embroidering caps and other wearables for the event.
Wright said the fire wood and boards created during Heavy Metal Rocks is then donated to T’Kemlups Indian Band elders and “people that need it.”