Heavy equipment training resumes for Washoe tribe members
DAYTON – Leila Skenandore watched closely Thursday as Matt Lawless eased a long, 12-inch-diameter water pipe hanging from the bucket of a backhoe into a narrow, 7-foot-deep trench on Main Street in Dayton.
A year from now, the Dresslerville woman plans to have Lawless’s job.
Skenandore, 28, is one of two dozen Washoes taking a year-long heavy equipment operator course run by the tribe.
She knows it works.
“My sister Karen Lundy took the course two years ago and got the heavy equipment certificate,” Skenandore said. “She’s had some good jobs since then.”
Skenandore is no stranger to strenuous labor. She has fought fires for the past eight years, working on a Bureau of Indian Affairs fire crew for $9.65 an hour.
But that job was even more seasonal than construction and frequently took her far from home as the crew fought blazes scattered about the nation.
“Once I get my certificate I could relocate, but I think I’ll stay close to here,” she said.
There likely will be plenty of work for Skenandore and her classmates, training program director Ranger Ellis said.
About the time the class graduates next February, construction of the Carson City bypass should be gearing up, he said.
The construction business has been very active throughout Northern Nevada with lots of businesses and people moving into the area and needing room to work and live, he said. A mild winter has kept things going year-round.
“The businessmen are doing very well and they’re out there looking for help,” said Ellis, who ran his own Ranger Construction building company until he took over the training program recently.
The course graduates also will have an advantage because 1,500 hours of their training will count toward apprenticeship with Operating Engineers Local Union No. 3, instructor Jess Taylor explained.
Completion of the apprenticeship program requires 6,000 hours of training and on-the-job experience. Taylor said having a quarter of that to their credit put the students higher on the apprentice hiring list.
The course includes a mix of classroom instruction, operation of equipment such as loaders and excavators and field trips to actual job sites of area contractors to see how tasks are accomplished and how safety procedures are implemented.
In Dayton, the students watched as Paragon Construction employees like Lawless shored up the water main trench with 1 1/2-inch plywood held in place by hydraulic braces.
Taylor explained that any trench deeper than 4 feet has to be shored up before workers enter it to prevent cave-ins.
Taylor had taken the students to the site two weeks ago when they saw the street marked with paint showing where existing water, sewer and telephone lines were expected to be.
When the students returned Thursday, Taylor pointed out that the telephone wires were actually located a few feet away from where they were marked.
Excavating too closely to the marking would have taken out telephone service to much of the area.
He also pointed out an old pipe in the trench that had been wrapped with asbestos. The Paragon crew had used hand shovels to clear the dirt around the pipe, so the asbestos was not disturbed to create a hazard.
“You’ve got to pay attention to what you run into down there. If you find oil or gasoline or have to remove a pipe with asbestos like this, you have to stop work and they bring in a crew trained to work with hazardous material,” Taylor told the class.
“Once you’ve got your jobs, you can train to get that hazardous material certification,” he said. “My advice is if you ever get the chance, take it. It pays very well.”
Ellis said apprentice heavy equipment operator jobs pay from $10 an hour on up, but that most start at somewhat more than that.
The tribe has offered the course for four years, funded by a federal vocational education grant. The current class is the first one after a year-long pause but a new course will start in April 2001, shortly after the current students reach the work force.