The case for training earthmovers in the age of technology
John Dice, senior trainer, Topcon University, with Topcon Positioning Systems, says it best: “Too often, training is expected to take place during the construction operation. And, it is expected that it will not affect the existing daily operations. That’s simply not reality for proper training.”
There is also a qualitative difference between learning how to operate a new machine versus learning how to get the most out of a new technology. For instance, if a contractor purchases a new dozer, it is likely that an experienced dozer operator can be trained on the operation of the new machine with little impact on the daily schedule. But if the contractor purchases a new 3D machine control system, there may not be an experienced GPS machine control operator who could easily learn a new operating platform. On face value, technology, with its built-in “unknowns,” can be intimidating.
“The benefits of thorough, enterprise-wide training can be seen immediately on jobsites once the proper employees have been trained,” Dice says. “GPS machine control is designed to provide three measurable benefits: increased productivity and efficiency, better control over import material quantities, and reduced survey staking costs—all of which can be documented.”
Contractors receive much of their initial and ongoing training from the technology manufacturers’ dealers who sold them the machine control systems. Since the equipment dealers often function as the primary source for contractor training, they are frequently the first to go through training programs developed by the manufacturer. It makes sense since the technology is evolving, changing, and receiving frequent updates, that a well-trained distributor network with a solid training program benefits the end-use.
For the contractor, the various training options available become critical to their success. Depending on the need, a contractor can participate in a variety of training options from self-paced online training to road show training to user conferences to webinars, and to complete classroom and/or outdoor training programs held at the technology developers’ state-of-the-art facilities.
Topcon, for example, has developed its Topcon University as the formalized source and collection of advanced technology experts. Its staff of experts include licensed surveyors and seasoned machine control instructors with a combined total of more than 60 years of experience in the machine automation industry, having worked on global jobsites.
Bundled into the Topcon University concept are an extensive variety of learning options that include self-directed, online learning, live webinars, instructor-led training courses, written product manuals and resource materials, guided software and firmware downloads, and formal instructor-led training programs held at local locations or at the training facility located outside of Livermore, California.
The facility has two classrooms and a 12-acre practice site with crowned roads, curves, steep banks, flat and sloping pads, and surveyed hubs to provide real jobsite conditions using a variety of machines for training purposes.
Topcon University also maintains a website,, which is designed to provide training materials and product support to both distribution and end-user personnel. Included on the site are manuals, technical information, and on-line lessons that cover everything from 101 basics to advanced product functions.
When possible, Topcon University dovetails its efforts and supports contractor-training options that may be offered by universities, colleges, and trade unions. Through its Educational Partners Program (EPP), Topcon University offers train-the-instructor programs, “field day” events for their students, provide access to materials on the website for training lessons, and offer equipment to the institutions at deep discount for training purposes.
The classroom and hands-on equipment operation training offered by the technology manufacturers typically are completed in a day or two. Briefing on the technology and its application is generally completed in a day. Site foreman and grade setter training on 3D grade management systems generally require 2 days training. Equipment operator and site foreman training on 3D machine control operation typically require 2 days. Project engineers and those being trained on site design software, such as Topcon’s MAGNET™ Office design software, will spend 2 days in classroom training.
Albert Einstein once said: “Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.” As the quote implies, learning and discovery of the “new” continues throughout life. Thus, the technology developers offer refreshers and training on technology updates on a regular basis. Successful contractors know that technology training and regular updates that empower employees and keep pace with evolving technology are crucial to succeeding in today’s challenging construction industry. Investing in technology can increase the bottom line. ■
About The Author:
Based in Chicago, Jack Lucic is a freelance writer covering construction, management, and insurance topics. He can be reached at
Modern Contractor Solutions, May 2013
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