Since Collins Career Technical Center (CCTC) in Chesapeake, Ohio, launched its adult Heavy Equipment Operator (HEO) training program, it has not looked back. In fact, the program continues to look forward and grow as it has become an important asset and resource to the construction industry in the surrounding area.

In 2021, CCTC’s Associate Director, Michael Staton, and Post-Secondary Administrator/Director of Technology, Chris Leese, determined there was a need for heavy equipment operators after completing a needs assessment with local employers and Local Operating Engineers in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia.

“We determined there was a great need for operator training to address the future demands of close to 22,000 heavy equipment operators over the next two years,” said Staton.

They partnered with Ohio Local 18 Operating Engineers to design the program to align with the Ohio Department of Higher Education while supporting CCTC’s mission statement to prepare youth and adults to enter, compete and advance in an ever-changing work world. Staton explained that he and Leese believed the in-depth HEO training program would be crucial for the Tri-State’s future workforce.

Course Structured to Include Simulator Training

The team designed the course to provide adult learners, ages 18-35, with more than just textbooks and in-class instruction. It includes hands-on, in-cab simulator training on four Cat® Simulators systems: the Small Wheel Loader, Motor Grader, Excavator and Dozer that Staton and Leese agree bring a real-world feel to the students’ learning experience.

“We wanted the real-world feel. We wanted the articulation. We wanted the movement in the seat. We wanted the vibrations,” said Staton. “We wanted the simulators to just feel as much like sitting in the seat and behind the stick as they possibly could. And that’s what Cat Simulators offer.”

Leese also wanted the program to stand out against other similar adult education programs. “And for us, that was Cat Simulators,” said Leese. “The simulators are the icing on the cake for students wanting to be heavy equipment operators.”

Two years ago, the program added two more Cat Simulators systems, the Backhoe Loader and Articulated Truck. “We purchased new simulators and turned the old ones over to our high school program,” said Staton who explained that CCTC has a high school program located seven miles from the main campus for local high school programs.

“Our program is successful and a large part of it is because of the Cat Simulators. They are as live and real as they can be,” explained Staton. “The success of this program is for our students to be able to get the opportunity while they’re in the classroom for five months to get hands-on experience. It’s twofold. They’re not just sitting in a classroom. They’re getting hands-on experience, developing muscle memory and skills while they’re on the simulators.”

CCTC’s successful Heavy Equipment Operator (HEO) training program has grown from four Cat® Simulators systems to six over the past three years.

Students Easily Transition to Real Machines

Over the past three years, Staton has watched students with five months of classroom instruction and more than 40 hours of hands-on simulator training transition easily from the simulators to real machines on a sports complex jobsite belonging to the Lawrence County Economic Development Corporation. He attributes much of the smooth transition to the simulators’ authentic Cat controls and the course instructor, Mark Norris, who has over 20 years of heavy equipment experience.

Staton explained, “The muscle memory the students gain during the five months of training on the simulators’ controls is the same as when they sit down in the real machine’s seat. And our instructor is tremendous with the students. He passes his experience along to the students and it just adds to their success.”

“We’ve been moving a lot of dirt for the last three years, but we’re moving dirt with a purpose,” said Staton. “We’re not just digging a footer and filling it back in, then next day digging the footer again. We’re moving dirt, loading articulated trucks and dump trucks, operating dozers, excavators and skid steers. We’re building roads. The students are really getting a well-rounded education.”

And the Tri-State area’s construction and heavy equipment industries are filling their employee pipelines with graduates of the program. “More than 80 percent of the program’s graduates are now working in either the Ohio Local 18 Operating Engineers or with larger local contractors,” explained Staton. “The hands-on experience the students gain from the simulators pays off.”

CCTC students are preparing to operate real heavy equipment on a sports complex jobsite for the course lab work.

Learn More

For more information about CCTC’s Heavy Equipment Operator program, contact Mike Staton at 740.646.9462 or or visit

To learn more about Cat Simulators, contact an Account Manager at 1.309.266.2640 or or visit