The Operator Challenge

Oct. 29, 2019
Gx Jr Blog

I had the opportunity to tour some of Caterpillar’s Building Construction Products (BCP) facilities this past week in North Carolina. 

One of the most informative events of the week was the panel that was held after the Operator Challenge took place. We had the opportunity to hear from operators Joe Billings (Seattle), Danny Younghusband (San Diego), Brett Maier (Sacramento), and Martin Bills (Paris, ID).

On the issue of hiring younger workers that are new to the industry: “Some of the technology that’s come about, there’s a lot of people that are having a hard time grasping that. The old-timers want to say that a good operator doesn’t need that, when its actually making your good operators great operators.” (Bills) 

“In our industry, there’s a shortage of operators. We have all this new technology, nice machines, you come to appreciate the things that aid you on the job to make your life easier.” (Younghusband)  

“I’ve got 20-year-olds that are working with us and half of them are amazing, and in another 10 years they’re going to be hands-down the best in the field, and some are just like those 60-year-olds that still can’t run a machine. Either you have what takes to be an operator or you don’t.” (Maier) 

The operators in the panel have noticed that in their experience, there are far fewer young adults interested in the industry and willing to learn the skills necessary to work in construction. According to the panelists, a lot of the problem boils down to work ethic and a distorted perception of what the work is actually like. They also emphasized the importance of valuing their most experienced and skilled operators so that they stay with their company longer—the operators go where the money is, so if they feel they’re not being paid fairly, they may eventually leave for another opportunity elsewhere. 

On dedication to the job: “When I first started on the loader, I was horrible. I stayed after work two hours a night every night for three weeks just to practice.” (Maier) 

In addition to watching parts of the Operator Challenge and sitting in on the panel discussion afterwards, I was able to see some of the newest equipment and upgrades from Caterpillar that were showcased during the week’s events. 

One of the highlights from Caterpillar is the new UTV they’ve designed. The big change in the 2020 model is a six-seat UTV. According to Amy Vincent, Utility Vehicle Product Specialist, it appeals to a new customer base for those in the agriculture and construction industries who need to drive several workers at a time around the work site. The extra seat can be retrofitted onto an older model if necessary, along with the safety features of the newer models. 

Caterpillar has also announced a new engine—the C3.6. According to the press release from Caterpillar, its “smaller size and increased power output help OEMs save significant powertrain installation costs. The Cat C3.6 offers a 5% increase in power density in a smaller package (compared to its predecessor engine C3.4). Smaller cooling package, more compact design, less fluid consumption and advanced technology features provide a lower total cost of ownership for buyers.” 

Caterpillar also released several new models of their Skid Steer and Compact Track Loaders in the D3 Series. From the press release: “An industry first, the D3 Series models also support a line of new Smart Attachments. This advanced machine technology recognizes certain attachments and tailors the controls and operator information to match the tool and the task.” Additionally, “Its one-piece sealed and pressurized cab keeps the operator’s environment clean and quiet, which is especially important for customers working the long shifts in the challenging conditions of these applications.” 

Watch a video of some new (and old) Caterpillar machines in action at their North Carolina facilities below.