Jim Rittler, Ag and Industrial Power Technology Instructor at Tri-Rivers Career Center, has been teaching for the past 20 years. The need for educating skilled graduates has not changed at the career center. However, the training tools have changed—with the implementation of Cat® Simulators.

Tri-Rivers Career Center provides career skills training for high school and adult students, along with rigorous academic courses. With more than 500 students and 60 staff members, Tri-Rivers has been a significant educational and training contributor to the North Central Ohio area for more than 40 years. Tri-Rivers offers pathways for high school students and adult education in the fields of Agriculture, Arts & Communications, Human Services, Health Science, Law & Public Safety, Engineering & Science, Transportation and Industrial Manufacturing.

The Ag & Industrial program has been around for more than 25 years. Three years ago, Rittler and his advisory committee determined that simulation should be added to the program as a supplement to the skills training offered. Simulation is an entry point to learning how to operate large equipment in the construction and agriculture environment. Dozer, Hydraulic Excavator and Small Wheel Loader simulators were purchased from Simformotion™. These Cat Simulator models were chosen based on the industries in the Marion, Ohio area.

“By adding simulator training to the program, the students can get the full scope of heavy equipment operation,” says Rittler. The students receive 48 hours of accumulative training on the simulators as part of the blended learning program. Rittler sets up his simulator classes and teaches one or two exercises at a time. For example his first class would cover the Machine Walkaround and Controls Familiarization. Simulator training allows students to gain skills in the operation of machinery that was unavailable to them previously. Students then move onto machine training after the theoretical and simulation training. Rittler coordinates with local businesses for machine training time.

Exclusive to Cat Simulators is SimU Campus™ the records management training software that records and reports the results of user simulation sessions. Tri-Rivers set up its simulators with a Manager’s Workstation. “We used them without the manager’s station for 2 years. We purchased the Manager’s Workstation this year and it’s so much easier to manage the classes,” Rittler says. “I use it daily to track student progress and print out their progress on the courses or skill training I have set up.” SimU Campus allows instructors to set up and customize classes as they determine best fits the needs of students. The instructor can assign student users specific training exercises or assign the same course outline to all users. SimU Campus also allows an instructor to change the benchmarks in each exercise to make them harder or easier to pass, or change the critical failures (those benchmarks that students must meet to pass the course). For example, if the number of overspeed warnings issued is more than one (or whatever number the instructor determines), the student will automatically fail the exercise. Rittler prints out the reports after simulation sessions and reviews them with each student. Together, they go over what the student needs to work on and improve and what he/she has learned correctly. Once students are confident on the simulators, he sets up tests through SimU Campus and measures the results. The reports also bring out the competitive spirit in the class, with the students vying to better one another. “Ultimately the students help each other to increase their skills,” he shares.

One of the most important concerns, Rittler says, is safety. Between the experience gained on the simulators, reports from SimU Campus and using actual equipment, Rittler can teach students safe operations. The simulators are designed to be as close and realistic to the actual equipment as possible, down to the controls and visuals featured. The transition from simulator to machine becomes much more seamless with less anxiety for the student. He/she is already familiar with the controls and basic applications before ever getting in the seat of the actual machine. Simulator training has become a conduit to internships in the area. Even if the students are not operating Cat equipment, they still gain operating experience via the simulators. Companies can be much more at ease choosing students to work for them that are already familiar with controls and key machine operations. Rittler’s students cite the realism of the simulators; learning the controls; and meeting the challenge of mastering the applications as some of the reasons they like simulator training. The simulators have also become important in recruiting efforts at Tri-Rivers Career Center. Current students demonstrate the simulators during 8th grade tours and for the high school during the Sophomore Exploration Days. “They are a wonderful visual and allow prospective students to easily see what they will learn and achieve in our program,” explains Rittler.

All of the career training pays off when students look for job opportunities. Throughout each year, students are encouraged to contact local contractors via contests, skills interviews and events. Tri-Rivers has a strong program advisory committee. Members spend time mentoring students and also help place them after graduation. “My advisory committee team comes in throughout the year and helps with our contests through FFA, Outdoor Power and Tractor Diagnostics,” Rittler explains. The team also helps students build job interview and ag-related skills. The advisory is so involved, that they make recommendations for lab equipment purchases. For example, when Rittler was comparing Cat Simulators and two other simulator brands, the advisory committee recommended Cat Simulators. The realistic nature of the simulation software; and the overall 24×7 technical Support services that customers receive upon purchase of Cat Simulators tipped the scales.

The future is continuing to unfold for students at Tri-Rivers. The staff has set a goal to add a full-time adult education program for heavy equipment operation that culminates in a CDL license. For the Ag & Industrial Power Technology program, Rittler would like purchase the actual equipment that relates to each simulator. Rittler points out, “Today, more farmers have excavators, dozers, and four-wheel loaders on the farm. Cleaning fence rows, clearing land, water ways, and tiling all require operating heavy equipment.” When Rittler gets that equipment, his students will already have many hours of simulation training to make the transition to the iron smooth.