A new program at Southern Tech will potentially fill a hefty need in the area for employers.

This fall, Southern Tech will welcome students into one of its newest programs: heavy equipment operation. The two-year, 1,050-hour class will teach students the fundamentals of operating backhoes, bulldozers, excavators and skid steers.

Jeremy Elrod, Southern Tech heavy equipment operation instructor, will teach the program after years of experience in construction, construction management and other applications using the large machinery. Elrod said while this is his first year teaching he feels confident he can provide students a plethora of information.

“I kind of have a background in every aspect of what I’ll be teaching,” Elrod said. “I’ve always thought about being a teacher.”

Darla Buck, Southern Tech marketing coordinator, said the program was first born when Southern Tech recognized a need for heavy equipment operation certification in the area. Buck said David Powell, Southern Tech superintendent, began researching similar programs to get an idea of how to implement a program in Ardmore.

After gathering research, Southern Tech purchased the needed equipment and hired Elrod. The program will begin this fall with an already blooming interest in the program, steadily growing. Elrod said he has 20 high school students and two adults signed up.

Elrod said the class will be a blend of in-class curriculum and hands-on activities. Southern Tech was also able to acquire several simulators through a grant, which will provide the students an idea of how the equipment handles before they ever step into the vehicles. Elrod said the hands-on activities will be an essential way to learn the skills needed to be a heavy equipment operator.

“You can read a book about dancing all day long but that doesn’t make you a good dancer,” he said.

Students who complete the program will receive a certification for heavy equipment operation, which Elrod said can be transformed into a variety of different careers. From running the equipment for a municipality or county to becoming a private contractor, the certification opens a lot of doors for operators.

“They won’t just come out as a laborer-type personnel,” Elrod said. “They’ll have a leg up.”

The job outlook for the field is expected to expand, with a projected 10 percent increase in the next decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ website.

A large portion of the curriculum, and everyday practices, will be about safety. Elrod said safety is essential when operating any equipment, but is particularly important when operating large machinery like a backhoe. Elrod said the class will cover safety curriculum in addition to the regular operational curriculum, ensuring students know the machinery top to bottom.

“Safety is everyday,” Elrod said. “Safety will be everyday and every aspect of it.”

Elrod said in the future he hopes to expand the program to include other large machinery. Anyone interested in enrolling for the course is encouraged to visit www. sotech. edu or call (580) 223-2070.