Boots On the Ground 101: Training Employees Right

An in-house training classroom provides new workers a place to learn everything they need to before touching the equipment
Boots On the Ground 101: Training Employees Right

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Just how much is Jose Moraga concerned about safety and employee retention? Enough to require new workers to take a comprehensive training class, held in a construction trailer “classroom” on the grounds of the company he owns, J Moraga Construction, in Merced, California.

“They go through a two- to three-day training seminar before they even set foot in the field,” says Moraga. “Back in the day, they’d put new workers in a truck and let them learn out in the field. But we work in city streets and rights-of-way, with lots of moving pieces and lane closures. To throw them right out into the field seems kind of crazy to me.”

The training sessions started about four years ago. During classes, employees watch training videos and take simple tests to help them understand the kind of work that J Moraga does. The presentations run the gamut from how to “white-mark” jobs to how to evaluate a landscape for potential obstacles, such as vaults, meters and telephone boxes.

“We teach them to identify utilities and what 811 is all about,” Moraga says. “It’s all critical to our success.”

Later, employees get taught how to operate equipment, from skid-steers and jackhammers to eventually digging with hydroexcavating machines — even a quick primer on the importance of wearing personal protection equipment. The company also sends employees to a nearby Ditch Witch (a Charles Machine Works Co.) facility for more detailed training about operating equipment (the company relies heavily on Ditch Witch machines).

“We’ll also show them how to safely back up a truck with a trailer,” Moraga explains. “Or how to properly connect a trailer to a truck. It may all seem very fundamental, but all the experienced guys are working, so we’re dealing with a lot of inexperienced workers.”

Moraga estimates that the initial training — which includes classroom time, seminars and filed training — costs anywhere from $4,700 to $6,500 per person. But it’s well worth the investment, he says, especially since they might eventually operate equipment that’s not only very expensive, but dangerous. “You could put them out there (in the field) right away, but that can really raise your liability,” he points out. “The last thing you want is some knucklehead out there endangering other people. So we put them through the classes and find out what they’re best suited for.

“The last thing I ever want to do is have to tell someone’s wife or parents that their spouse or child isn’t coming home tonight,” he adds. “That bothers me to my core. Safety is very personal to me.”


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