ramsey herman construction

Ramsey Herman says he's wanted to be a heavy equipment operator for years. (David Shield, CBC)

A course training First Nations and Metis people to operate heavy machinery is being called a success.

The program, operated in conjunction with the City of Saskatoon, trains aboriginal people to use heavy machinery like graders and excavators. It also gives graduates their 1A drivers license, which can be used for everything from driving a city bus to a semi-trailer truck.

This week, eight students are learning how to use the equipment in a field on the outskirts of Saskatoon. 

The course is in high demand. This year alone, around 200 students applied to join the program. 

"It's been a lifelong dream since I was a kid, to be a heavy equipment operator," said student Ramsey Herman. "I just like seeing the way these machines work, ripping out ground, and making new developments for people out there."

Andrea Bluehorn is the only woman in this year's program. Her favourite piece of machinery is the excavator, one of the largest pieces of equipment in the class.

"I'm really proud of myself," she said. "I'm here as a woman, representing women in trades and I have daughters at home too that I'm a role model for, so it's pretty exciting for me."

This is the fifth year the program has been taught by the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technology(SIIT).

Project organizers say the course is a good way for aboriginal people to break into the job market.

"A lot of our aboriginal people don't have the skills needed to go out and get jobs, and it's tough for people to get entry-level jobs," said Terry Young, Coordinator of Industrial Initiatives at the SIIT. "Everybody wants experience."

The City of Saskatoon is a big part of the program as well. The city promises to hire any graduate from the program and give them an entry-level position. The worker could then work their way up into more specialized jobs.

Administrators say the program is a necessary way to find more skilled workers, something that is always very difficult to do.

"When we take a look at trying to increase the aboriginal participation in the workforce, we take a look at where is the demand going to be," says Gilles Dorval, Director of Aboriginal Relations with the City. "We knew there was a shortage of heavy equipment operators within our organization as people retire and move up the system."

Organizers are happy with the program's graduation rate, which sits between 85 and 90 percent.