In one area of the campus, bulldozers are pushing dirt, leveling the ground. Nearby, a couple of sidebooms are being carefully maneuvered around orange pylons. To make the exercise just a little more challenging, the machines are carrying heavy concrete weights.
The three-week pipeline training program was introduced by Local 793 to ensure that the union has trained operators available to meet an expected upturn in work in the pipeline sector.
“We are anticipating an increase in pipeline work and we want to make sure we have operators trained and ready when our signatory contractors need them,” explained business manager Mike Gallagher. “This program will ensure we have the necessary manpower.”
About a dozen Local 793 operators took part in the OETIO’s first program. Some were experienced pipeline workers looking to hone their skills or learn new techniques while others were from different sectors of the industry and looking to make the transition to pipeline work.
As part of the training, participants received pipeline-specific theory and field training on excavators, dozers and sidebooms.
Derek Ralph, a 27-year-old Local 793 operator who’s been running heavy equipment for about a decade, took the course to get himself up to speed on pipeline work.
He was hoping the training would give him the experience needed to land a job in the sector.
“I’m pretty impressed with what I’ve learned,” he said. “As a dozer operator I thought I knew everything about backfilling and stripping but I found out that everything’s different and from what I’ve learned from these teachers, it will certainly be very beneficial.”
Derek said he picked up a lot of tips from the course.
“It’s a completely different way of operating from what I’m used to but the union has got the right grounds, the right machines and the right teachers.”
Derek has always been interested in running heavy equipment. He started off doing landscaping work for a company owned by his uncle.
At first, he ran small machines then worked his way up to the bigger rigs.
He’s worked in the sewer and watermain industry. He has a brother who has worked in the pipeline sector and wants to turn his hand to pipeline work as well.
“I’ve hauled pipe before. I’m so intrigued by it.”
Leslie Kuhn, a 61-year-old Local 793 operator from Windsor who’s worked mainly in the sewer and watermain and road industries for 25 years, took the course because it was time for a change.
He says pipeline is similar to the type of work he was doing before.
“There’s not much difference because you’ve still got your rigging and your digging, you’re just dealing with a different type of pipe and atmosphere.”
Leslie decided on pipeline training because he expects there will be jobs down the road.
“If you’ve got to go out of town you might as well go on pipeline. I figured I’ll take the course and see what happens.”
He’s learned a lot from the course.
“With the new laws and everything, it’s interesting. Twenty years ago, the stuff that you were doing you wouldn’t be doing now. It’s different now — all your safety regulations and stuff like that.”
Jean Levac, 36, of Orleans, a Local 793 member and pipeline worker, took the course to hone his skills.
In the past, he did hydrostatic testing at Summit Pipeline Services for two years then three years of maintenance program work at Robert B. Somerville Co.
“For me, it’s mainly about upgrading and training,” he said.
Jean has done mostly testing and maintenance work. He was pleased the course covered mainline systems as well.
“You learn the basic fundamentals of a mainline spread which, by the sounds of it, is what’s going to be kicking off in the next few years.”
In preparation for the program, the OETIO purchased two John Deere 850 sidebooms at a cost of $1.35 million and two used D6 dozers at a cost of $373,000.
OETIO executive director Harold McBride said the program is being offered because the union will have to increase its pipeline operator dispatch capacity to keep up with the vast amount of pipeline work that is expected to be completed in Ontario over the next five years.
“The training offered at the OETIO will enable Local 793 to supply the pipeline owners and contractors with operators that are properly trained for the job and work safely.”