Career Academy installs heavy machinery simulator

From the seat of a skid-steer loader, the driver navigated a heavy parcel of concrete blocks onto an elevated flat surface.

Controlling the virtual experience was a high school student at the Golden Isles College and Career Academy. Behind him, classmates, instructors and others watched closely as he attempted to steer the machine and carefully maneuver the heavy load.

They were also witnessing one of the first trial runs on the newly installed heavy machinery simulator at the Career Academy that will be part of a new course pathway set to begin next school year.

“This software gives you different feedback. It also will evaluate how quickly they’re able to perform the tasks with it,” explained Jeff Kicklighter, president of Seaboard Construction, for the benefit of those gathered for the ribbon cutting ceremony that unveiled the new simulator. “When they’re moving dirt, it actually calculates how many cubic yards per minute they’re moving. So they can kind of grade themselves.”

The process to bring the new equipment to the Career Academy began about eight months ago, said Joseph Depenhart, principal at GICCA and CTAE director for Glynn County Schools.

“Dr. (Scott) Spence had come to me and talked about the idea of starting a heavy equipment pathway,” he recalled. “Mr. Kicklighter from Seaboard Construction had been in contact with Jerry Mancil from our school board and really impressed the need to develop more of this skillset in this community to fill badly needed jobs.”

A GICCA team traveled to Toombs County High School, which is one of six programs in the state that offers the course. They also worked closely with Seaboard to understand what the local employment needs are.

“Based off of their recommendations, we moved forward to buy our first simulator based on the platforms that they use most often, specially hydraulic excavators and skid-steers, which are the best ones to start out on,” Depenhart said.

The simulator GICCA recently installed is expected to be the first of many the school will purchase.

“Quite recently Brian (Weese) and I were lucky enough to get a workforce development grant from Georgia Power, and we currently have a second simulator on order right now as we speak,” Depenhart said. “Next school year in the fall, we will actually offer this pathway for the first time.”

A group of students in the introductory to construction class at GICCA will be among the first cohort for the heavy equipment pathway next year.

“I should’ve brought applications,” Kicklighter quipped during the ribbon cutting ceremony as he stepped up to the podium, behind which the students stood.

Kicklighter said Seaboard and other companies have struggled to fill the jobs that the heavy equipment pathway will prepare students for.

“I really appreciate the speed that y’all got this program going,” he said. “Seaboard is going to continue to be a partner in this. We have properties that the...students can go out to to get on the real equipment — under supervision — and really feel what it’s like to be on one.”

In the classroom, the student navigating the skid-steer loader through the simulator accidentally dropped the cement block load he carried. On screen, the blocks fell over the side and out of sight, and in the room a chorus of “Oh nos” erupted.

“Well, he’s fired,” Depenhart joked.