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House panel digs bill aiming to fund online heavy equipment courses

Can students learn to operate heavy equipment through online courses?

Believing they can, Rep. Dave Lislegard (DFL-Aurora) is seeking funds to help expand a program that has successfully done just that.

He sponsors HF1337, which would appropriate $100,000 in fiscal year 2022 for the Minnesota Virtual Academy and its heavy equipment training program for high school students, operated in conjunction with Operating Engineers Local 49.

The House Industrial Education and Economic Development Finance and Policy Committee approved the bill, as amended, 13-0 Wednesday and sent it to the House Labor, Industry, Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee. The companion, SF1555, sponsored by Sen. Justin Eichorn (R-Grand Rapids), awaits action by the Senate Education Finance and Policy Committee.

Students would earn high school elective credits, articulated college credits, and credit hours with the goal of enrolling in the registered apprenticeship program of the union, Jenny Winkelaar, director of workforce and community development for IUOE Local 49 said during her presentation.

The four courses in the heavy equipment operators curriculum are:

  • construction explorations;
  • basic grade and construction math;
  • basic construction equipment fundamentals; and
  • basic maintenance of mobile equipment.

Most training is done through Minnesota Virtual Academy, Winkelaar said, but as students progress through the curriculum, there are more opportunities for hands-on activities, including virtual field trips, simulator experiences and onsite exploration at the Local 49 training center in Hinckley.

In its first year of operation, the training program enrolled students in 39 counties and 66 school districts, said Leslie Lewandowski, career prep program coordinator for Stride Career Prep, an academy affiliate.

Winkelaar said she is “really proud” that 15% of current enrollees are female, an underrepresented group in heavy construction. Some of the requested funds would be to recruit more females and to try and increase enrollment of people of color, currently at 7%.


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