In a warehouse in the Kam Lake area, eight students buckle up in large black simulators that shake, rattle and beep as they navigate a virtual reality construction site on the screen in front of them.
They are the first members of a heavy equipment training course using simulators to teach students the safe operation of loaders, trucks, excavators and bulldozers. After one week on each simulator – four weeks total – the students will spend one month training on real machines.
Jonathan Goulet, a 31-year-old participant in the program, said simulator training took some getting used to.
“It was a little weird at the beginning,” he said. “You can take a lot more chances, it’s easier to do it that way because you learn quicker. You know where you’ve made your mistakes.”
Bill Mattson, a simulator trainer for 13 years, said he has seen the benefits of this type of training many times. In 2011, he trained a group of students in Dettah on simulators, and then took them out to test out an excavator sitting on top of a rock pile.
“A big pile of rocks is sort of like sitting on marbles, so you need to have a certain amount of skills,” he said. “You wouldn’t dream of putting somebody with no experience whatsoever in that situation but everyone that did through the simulator program went up there and did it.”
The project is a collaboration between Margaret Erasmus at the Yellowknives Dene First Nation wellness division and Det’on Cho Corporation, the corporate arm of the First Nation.
Det’on Cho’s chief operating officer John Henderson said this is the first time this simulator training has been run by the corporation. Whether the program runs again depends on if there is a need for heavy equipment operators in industry.
Both Henderson and Mattson agree simulator training can give job seekers a competitive edge.
“It’s leaps and bounds over somebody who has no experience whatsoever,” said Mattson.
Students learn how to do walk-around inspections and find potential damage, reducing the cost to the company.
Students who are successful in the program can work for Det’on Cho, local construction companies, or in the mines.
“We’re not just training people to work for us,” said Henderson. “Ultimately if people are employed in the jobs they want to be in, fantastic.”
Henry Ben Martin, 35, said he knows he wants to work in mining once he finishes the program. For now, he is enjoying using what he calls the “fun toys.”
“Once you get the hang of it, it’s gonna come naturally,” he said. “One week on the machine and it became kind of like a toy, kind of like a video game.”