PANAMA CITY BEACH — Arnold High School received two excavator simulators for its construction academy Tuesday.
A demonstration of the Cat Simulators equipment was held Wednesday to show Bay District School officials, construction company representatives and Arnold High School Principal Britt Smith how the simulators work. The simulators will be good training for students in the academy because they give an accurate feel of how to use the excavators.
One example is if the bucket is pushed too deep into the dirt, the excavator will lean back and not be centered because too much pressure is being used. Both have the two joysticks that a worker would use to move the bucket, along with pedals to move the excavator forward and backward.
Construction workers who have years of experience said the simulators could have students 80% trained before actually stepping in as an operator. Bay District Superintendent Bill Husfelt said the biggest investment now, in addition to the simulators, which run between $60,000 to $80,000 each, is in the instructors for the construction academy.
The simulators were made by Cat Simulators and BDS used grant money to pay for them. Husfelt said that a construction company would provide about $15,000 for more simulators, but didn’t specify which one.
Husfelt said jokingly that once students see the simulators, the interest for the program will spread like COVID-19.
Steven Clements, vice president of the Civil Division for GAC Contractors, and George Roberts, owner of Roberts and Roberts Inc., checked out the new simulators Wednesday. Plans to work with Arnold and the construction academy were going back and forth between Clements and Roberts.
Some of those plans included helping with co-op and possibly help with getting more experienced instructors for the program.
“As the new president of the Bay County Contractors Association, we’re going to make the commitment to support and make sure to back up the investment that the school has made,” Roberts said. “It’ll be huge for our industry for the future to come.”
“We’re definitely in need of help in our industry right now,” Clements said. “Everything is being rebuilt from the hurricane (Michael) and new people are coming into our area, so we’re definitely going to support the simulator and Bay District Schools and provide whatever help they need.”
There is a growing concern in the construction industry of not having enough workers, especially younger ones. Clements and Roberts said an excavator operator would start off between $12 and $15 an hour, but they would move up quickly.
Jordan Forehand, instructor for the construction academy at Arnold, said there is a growing excitement after only having the simulators on campus for a couple days. He already teaches six classes that range between 150 and 180 students per semester in the academy, but said he feels like that number will grow quickly.
Forehand’s plan is for third-year students to use the simulators, but that hasn’t lowered the excitement of his younger students.
“I know my younger students, who are about a year and a half away from working these, are already excited,” Forehand said. “I’ve had kids I’ve never even seen before come up to me asking about them (simulators) and this is only my second day having them in my class.”
Forehand added that he’s going to need a bigger classroom because he expects an enrollment increase. He said tongue-in-cheek that he might have to be in the auditorium for a while.
As exciting as it was for Forehand to have handy equipment to increase the quality education for the academy, he’s more excited about the possibility of his students getting co-op opportunities. While classroom instruction is great, it doesn’t compare with getting real-life experience.
“That is the end goal when you teach a trade academy, especially construction,” Forehand said. “To hear that co-op opportunity and for them to have a chance to leave high school with a job, I feel happy for them (students).”
There also were talks about using the simulators for after-school training for people who are in the industry already. Those things will be worked out with Arnold, Roberts and Roberts Inc. and GAC Contractors.