Portage College: Heavy Equipment Operator Simulator Trailer Is First of Its Kind in Western Canada

Member Spotlight

Portage College (Portage) is a comprehensive community institution serving oil sands rich north eastern Alberta. Portage was gifted in 1968 when Cree and Métis peoples undertook a 28-day sit-in demanding learning opportunities. Today, Portage has grown to operate 10 campus locations serving seven First Nations (Indian) Reservations and four Métis Settlements. Portage's learning area includes some 45 distinct ethnic communities representing 85,000 people. Ethnic diversity is a wealth celebrated in the northern communities served by the college.

The Lac La Biche Campus is situated in the gateway to Alberta's oil sands development. Training power engineers and the first SAGD Operators, the Lac La Biche campus models the delivery of effective technology engaged learning. Portage delivers technology-based employment training and environmental stewardship training at the construction and operational phases of oil and gas extraction.

Portage has been working with the oil sands earthworks industry to address the shortage of Heavy Equipment Operators (HEO) and to improve the need for soils training in the profession. After 16-months of industry consultation, Portage partnered with equipment suppliers, employers, and provincial and federal government stakeholders to raise $2.3 million for a unique HEO Program. 

Portage has built and designed (in-house) the first mobile Heavy Equipment Operator Simulator Trailer (HEO SIM) in Alberta. The HEO SIM is a delivery tool for a number of youth engagement projects encouraging Aboriginal kids to stay in school as well as promoting the HEO occupation.

Twelve John Deer Operator Training Simulators are housed in the 53-foot self-contained truck/trailer unit. Six crawler/dozers, four excavators, and two motor grader simulators give students a cost-effective and safe way to gain experience with machine controls and proper operating procedures. The trailer was airbrushed by a local artist and has travelled to a dozen communities in the past six months. The HEO SIM trailer has enabled Portage to bring training right to students' home communities, functions as a pre-screening tool of applicants, and visually promotes the college. The HEO SIM trailer will continue to tour Alberta in the coming months, but when it is at home, it will be located at Portage's new Heavy Equipment Training Centre in Boyle, Alberta. The location is currently being prepared by HEO students.

The HEO Program routinely accepts 14 students for each 16-week offering. The program has guaranteed hands-on operator training hours for each specified piece of HEO equipment. There is a minimum of 40 simulator training hours per student. Instruction takes place in a simulated "camp-style" learning/work environment that models remote working at oil and gas sites. The program includes introduction to soils interpretation, analysis, and management. In addition, HEO graduates can take Aboriginal Lands Management training for professional development. The current tuition has been reduced by 50 per cent over previous years'.  

Portage HEO students are enjoying great employment success. Eighty-seven percent are employed in the industry six months from graduation. Aboriginals are represented in the graduates at more than 60 percent. Portage is working to eliminate a 100 student waitlist.

Contact: Felicity Bergman, PR & Marketing Manager, Community & Industry Training Initiatives, 780.623.5548