2019 Fauquier County High School grad Logan Falls has a jump start on his heavy construction career thanks to Laurel Ridge Workforce Solutions’ Heavy Equipment Operators (HEO) program.
He was in the program’s first cohort of high school students who took the course two evenings a week this past spring.
Lord Fairfax became the first community college in Virginia to offer statewide industry credential programs for heavy equipment operators in 2017. Students are trained to work on a variety of contractor equipment and trucks used for demolition, earthmoving, trench digging, road building and site grading in the construction and transportation industries.
There is high demand for heavy equipment operators in Virginia, and the median salary is $45,890 a year.
Students enrolled in LFCC’s HEO program not only receive training from experienced instructors, they’re trained on state-of-the-art simulation equipment. Additionally, the course comes with a “guarantee to interview” with local construction companies upon successful completion.
Fauquier County Public Schools offered to cover the cost of the class – considered as an elective credit by the school system – for nine students. The evening class started in March, and two students from Prince William County also signed up. Those two students only had to pay $916 for the course thanks to FastForward funding, which covered two-thirds of the program cost.
Logan Falls was hired by Superior Paving Corp. and started his new job even before completing the course. He is one of four students hired by Superior. Two were hired by S. W. Rodgers Co., and another two were hired by Shirley Contracting Co.
The occasion was celebrated during a “signing ceremony” with the students and employers at LFCC’s Vint Hill site, which hosted the classes.
“I thought the HEO course would be a good opportunity to get a head start, as well as be something that I’d like to do,” he says. “It sure enough helped me, and I’ve got a good job lined up right now and I’m going to make a career out of it.”
His new employer has suggested that he take electrical courses at LFCC later down the line.
Logan’s mother, Crystal Falls, is pleased with the HEO course.
“This has been an amazing experience for him, and we are thrilled that he had this opportunity,” she says. “I hope he will pursue more courses with LFCC in the future.”
All students who wished to immediately enter the workforce received job offers, LFCC Fauquier Campus Workforce Director Carlene Hurdle says.
“These students have been given a tremendous opportunity to begin their careers this summer – in fact, some have already started working this week,” she says. “We know that this is a field that is consistently in high demand. Just look around you – we have the Interstate 66 widening and other road projects, as well as continued growth in commercial and residential building.”
The course is a great example of industry, LFCC and area schools working together to create job opportunities.
“Our partnership with LFCC and the Heavy Construction Contractors Association (HCCA) has enabled us to offer our students training in the high- demand field of excavation,” Fauquier County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. David Jeck says. “This program is a great example of connecting student learning with workplace opportunities.”
Prince William County Public Schools CTE Supervisor Doug Wright calls the experience “a unique and exciting educational opportunity.”
He lauds the forward vision of LFCC’s Carlene Hurdle and HCCA Executive Director Ken Garrison.
“HCCA member companies, plus our higher education partner at LFCC, along with Fauquier County Public Schools and Prince William County Public Schools, provide an example of how when we all work together we can make a difference and bring career pathways and opportunities to the future workforce – our students,” Wright says. “This program is a game changer for students who want to explore the world of HEO and who want to turn it into a lucrative and rewarding career.”
LFCC’s HEO course is endorsed by the HCCA, which quickly mobilized an employer-driven curriculum advisory committee and connected Workforce Solutions staff with simulation equipment vendors as the course was being developed. Additionally, when FastForward funding was temporarily halted, HCCA members were so committed to the need for the program, they raised $50,000 in supplemental funding.
“It’s a program that we’ve supported from the beginning,” HCCA Board member Danny Funderburk says. “We understand that it’s going to take a while to get this program up and running. We’re committed to the long- term success of the program because we have such a strong need for talented workers in our industry.”
Funderburk, who handles learning and development for William A. Hazel Inc., says the heavy construction industry has struggled to keep pace with demand as many would-be employees have instead pursued four- year degrees. The industry is working diligently to turn the tide and expose more students to the fast-growing, well-paid trade.
“The continued growth has actually led some of the people who at one time
or another worked for us go out and start their own companies,” Funderburk says.
Earning the HEO credential will set someone apart from other employees, according to Funderburk.
“You’ve already demonstrated a capability and willingness to learn,” he says.
HEO classes are currently enrolling at Vint Hill and Middletown Campus. FastForward funding is available for these classes, and additional funding may be available for those who qualify. Visit laurelridgeworkforce.com/ HEO or call 540-868-7021 to register or find out more.