United States Sen. Steve Daines stopped in Miles City Monday evening to tour Miles Community College’s Heavy Equipment Operations program.
Daines has been traveling around the state to promote made-in-Montana energy and the good-paying jobs it supports. The tour will include the Montana Energy Summit 2016 on March 29-31 in Billings. He expects around 500 people at the conference to talk about the future of energy in Montana.
Daines met with MCC President Stacy Klippenstein, among others, in James Lucas Hall. The group proceeded to the Heavy Equipment Operations building to meet with instructor Jerry Forman.
“It’s important to elevate and celebrate the trades in this country, men and women who get these skills to operate heavy equipment,” said Daines.
Forman led the group into the room that houses the equipment simulators, where Daines tested out an excavating simulator with instructions from Forman.
The scenario was scooping up dirt and loading it into a truck. It is the most attempted scenario offered.
“Are you sure I’m not going to hit it?” said a concerned Daines when moving the dirt into the truck.
At the end of the scenario, the simulator showed that Daines would have only made the company a little over $100.
He seemed to take it in stride.
According to Forman, the first two or three weeks of training are used to get the students used to the controls of the machines. This year is the first year that every student can log into the software as himself, and his progress can be tracked throughout the year. This also makes it possible to track the money the student would make or lose if during the simulation they break or damage any equipment. The end scoresheet is compared to that of a seasoned operator.
Heavy Equipment Operations is a one-year program that is designed around a nationally recognized curriculum built around industry standards from the National Center for Construction Education and Research.
“The program covers the basics of safety, certain types of equipment and that sort of thing,” said Forman. “We can give the basics – safety on a small truck is the same as safety on a big truck. We hit the safety aspect pretty hard.”
According to Vice President of Enrollment and Student Success Jessie Dufner, when students graduate in the spring they leave with around $3,500 to $5,500 in debt depending on where they are from, loans, grants and scholarships that are available.
Coming out of the program, the students have a very high chance to be hired. Around 86 percent of graduates are placed.
“As many of them that want to be employed get jobs,” said Forman. “On day one, I tell students that this is an industry that if you want a job and want to be paid well, you’re going to be moving around, that’s the nature of the beast. Now, about this time of the year, they’re looking to stay in town, and we kind of lose some of them. They’re just scared to move on.”
The group then moved to the trailer that houses the Commercial Drivers License simulator and on to tour the former armory that MCC recently purchased to house its Heavy Equipment Operations program.
“I look forward to coming back and seeing it finished,” exclaimed Daines after hearing about the remodeling process of the armory.
The armory needs updating before it can be opened to students and the program.
“In a year worth of training with relatively a little amount of debt, and they’re earning wages higher than national average right out of MCC. That’s an important story,” said Daines. “It also shows the importance of highlighting how the energy in Montana creates jobs.”
According to Daines, the heavy equipment program at MCC and the energy in Montana all tie together.
While on his energy tour, he visited Laurel and toured the CHS Refinery. During the tour he discovered that 60 percent of the electricity that they use in the refinery comes from Colstrip.
“It highlights how important coal is to the state,” said Daines. “And having affordable and reliable electricity is critical to support jobs, for example at the refinery, that pay over $100,000 on average. It’s not just about the direct jobs in Colstrip, but the ripple effect across our state.”
According to Daines, his office has been getting a lot of phone calls and emails from Montana citizens who are concerned about the possible shutdown of portions of the coal mine in Colstrip.
“We want to see more made-in-Montana energy, not more made-in-the-Middle-East energy,” Daines said.
On Monday he also visited Colstrip for a town hall meeting and finished the day with a visit to MCC. Today he will be in Baker to tour the Diamond Willow Wind Farm, Glendive to tour the Dawson Community College Corrosion Technology Program and Sidney to the office opening and Lewis and Clark Power Plant Tour.
Daines also attended a meet-and-greet in Miles City Monday for Matt Rosendale, who is running for state auditor. Daines endorsed his candidacy.