The familiar whir of engines and beeping of back-up warning signals surrounds the students at Oak Creek Youth Correctional Facility as they practice driving bulldozers, excavators, loaders, and road graders.
Even though the sounds are real, the machines are only visible on a monitor. They’re part of a heavy equipment training simulator, located inside a large trailer parked outside Oak Creek.
Baker Technical Institute (BTI) has brought its simulation trailer to five OYA facilities in the past few years to help OYA youth gain hands-on training in running large equipment.
During this visit to Oak Creek, 11 students were able to participate in the training. After 32 hours of practice, they will gain a certificate of completion showing they are qualified to hop into the driver’s seat of these machines at any construction company.
The program was able to come to Oak Creek and to Camp Florence thanks to a career and technical education revitalization grant from Oregon Department of Education to Multnomah Education Service District (MESD). Joy Koenig of MESD, principal of the schools at Oak Creek, Camp Florence, and the Young Women’s Transition Program, wrote the grant.
“In the community, this training can cost thousands of dollars,” Koenig says. “It’s a livable wage job, which is so awesome because our students need those skills.”
The youth are learning more than the ins and outs of how to drive construction vehicles. Cambria and Madison, two students in the recent class, both say the experience has boosted their self-confidence and taught them how to persevere, even when things are difficult.
“When you don’t do well, it (the simulator) says, ‘failed,’ and that word can be a trigger for some people,” Cambria says. “It doesn’t mean you’re a failure. You just have to try again.”
Dawson Vanderwiele, the lead instructor from BTI, has taught six different sessions so far at OYA facilities. She says that the Oak Creek students, many of whom are female, will find more job possibilities now than in the past.
“There are getting to be more opportunities for women in construction. Guys are learning they do want women on their crews,” she says. “They see that women are more meticulous, more particular, safer.”
Vanderwiele says she has enjoyed the opportunity to work with youth in custody.
“I like giving the kids in the facilities a chance for when they get out,” she says. “They have this in their back pocket whenever they need it, for a new start, a new job, a paycheck. It gives them an opportunity that they otherwise may not have again.”