It’s hard to miss the brightly painted red and blue semi-trailer parked along University Avenue in Waterloo. It looks like it should be hauling a car to a NASCAR Race, but its mission is much more simple. Get drivers along the busy highway to take notice and pull in for a pit stop. It caught the attention Eric Wallsteadt and his two kids.
“Every time we see it," he says, “I keep bringing it up and basically you can walk right up and try it out.”
And what they’re trying out is a chance to operate heavy equipment including a bulldozer, an excavator, a back hoe and grader. This is all part of a pilot project by Iowa Workforce Development that adds a new interactive tool to the job search. Srdjan Golub is helping facilitate the experience.
“What’s really cool about it," he explains, “is that it lets you keep track of your progress. So for example, you can track the dollar amount of how well you are doing for the company. It also watches any damage you did.”
Golub is director of Business Community Education at Hawkeye Community College. He hopes the simulator will spark an interest in a field that continues to show growth.
“Occupations in construction and heavy equipment operation are in demand," he says. “This is especially true since the ten cent a gallon Iowa road use tax was passed. The outlook is even brighter now."
It’s no coincidence that the trailer is parked outside the Cedar Valley Iowa Works office which just this week got an influx of new clients due to another round of layoffs at Deere and Company.
Office Director Christi Mason says it’s hoped that job fairs and opportunities like the construction equipment simulator will provide options for those who will soon be looking for jobs.
“Black Hawk County is one of the highest counties in the state with a six-percent unemployment rate along with Wapello and Lee in the southern parts of the state. The good news, she adds, “is that we do have some national emergency grants to help dislocated workers get the re-training they need.”
Deere and Company isn’t the only manufacturer reducing its Northeast Iowa workforce. Last month Terex Cranes in Waverly announced it will move all operations to Oklahoma, leaving 175 people without work. Some of those employees have been with Terex for decades.
Back inside the construction equipment simulator trailer, even with all those people out of work, Srdjan Golub remains optimistic about what he’s witnessed in the past eight months.
“In the end we actually visited all 15 Workforce regional offices around the state. We worked with different community colleges and businesses showed up," he said. “Once everybody got onboard they were bringing them to work sites and the county fairs. The word got out and everybody kind of hopped on because it’s a good idea for everybody."
Golub says along with displaced workers, the project hopes to draw women into a career that in the past has been mostly for the guys. So imagine how pleased he was when Eric Wallsteadt’s nine-year-old daughter Allison sat down at the bulldozer station and began moving and dumping sand like a pro.
“Now that I came in here,” she said smiling, “I was like, oh this is different than I thought it would be. It kind of gets me learning about things I might want to do when I grow up.”
Golub says the best case scenario for the simulator would be getting those who need a job to think outside the box. That in turn should eventually help drop the county’s unemployment rate under six-percent.