High school students from across Minnesota enrolled in the Operating Engineers’ Pathway Program run by the Minnesota Virtual Academy finally got their chance to experience operating heavy equipment. This year’s event kicked off at the Local 49 training Center outside Hinckley, Minn. on the second Saturday in February. Now in its third year, high schoolers from 9th through 12th grade take four, one-semester courses online that cover a multitude of topics from construction math to equipment fundamentals. The program is, in effect, a three-for-one deal because the students can earn high school, college and apprenticeship credit while exploring a career as an operating engineer.

But that Saturday was the day when they got a well-rounded opportunity to get a hands on experience from running a piece of equipment and learning the mechanics of it from an experienced engineer to the technology side of GPS. In fact, 18 of the students had already taken the test regarded as the Operating Engineers entrance exam, the Ramsey Test.

“The biggest thing is the program is giving high school-aged students is the opportunity to see more aspects of our industry beyond carpentry. That’s never been the case in the past,” said Steve Tuhy, the training center’s apprenticeship coordinator. “The kids are now able to make an educated decision. It’s not just a dream. There’s more of a drive because they’ve tried it and know it’s really for them.”