By Barney Blakeney
Debbie Myers believes if her students can take her beating four weeks, they’ll leave her heavy equipment operation training class prepared for a lifestyle change. She is the only African American woman in the state and perhaps the country who owns and operates a heavy equipment operation training school, Myers Crossing, LLC. Myers is as tough and purposeful as the equipment she teaches her students to operate. She’s intense.
In a recent publication S.C. Maritime Association President Heather Holmquest said advanced manufacturing, a term applied to the aerospace and automotive industries, is heavily dependent on the logistical and supply chain industry. Among other skilled workers, they need crane and heavy equipment operators, but there are critical shortages among those workers.
The perception that every student should graduate from high school and go off to college is misleading. Many heavy equipment operators need only a high school education and earn a starting salary exceeding South Carolina’s average annual income. That information isn’t lost on Myers, and she extolls her students to consider it.
During the course’s one week of classroom theory and three weeks of practical training with equipment, Myers constantly reminds her students of the economic bonanza evidenced by the proliferation of construction in the region. It’s a bonanza that likely will last another 30 years, she tells them. Students who successfully complete the course and continue to gain skills almost are guaranteed consistent employment for the span of their working lifetime, she predicts.
“We’re turning coal into diamonds,” Meyers says as she admonishes her students to take advantage of the opportunity. “My job is to equip students with the skills they need to begin a lucrative career.” Her school’s job placement rate is about 90 percent after course completion, she notes. “Their job is to show up, have the right attitude and do the job.”
In the classroom located on Johns Island where Myers and Richard Legare partner to conduct the school, Myers sounds more like a motivational speaker than a heavy equipment operation instructor. But it’s in the field where students get practical training that her 30 years of experience brings out their best. Her intensity and meticulous attention to detail demands they perform. “It’s get it til you get it right,” she says.
Her company also gets it right. In 2013, her company partnered with Darlington Technical College in Florence, SC to train residents in Solar Panel Installation. It graduated three classes with successful completion and job placement rates until FDTC decided to discontinue the program.
In 2015, the company began discussions with Trident Technical College to deliver heavy equipment operation training. In 2017, the company conducted its first class at Bushy Park in Goose Creek. The program trained about 21 participants with a graduation rate of 90 percent and more than 90 percent job placement rate. Since August, Myers Crossing, LLC has conducted classes independently and trained some 40 students producing similar graduation and job placement rates.
Coincidentally, her female students often are her best, Myers says. Usually, about 10 percent of her classes are comprised of females. Heavy equipment operation training is a non-traditional opportunity for women, she explains. But it’s one more and more women are realizing they can access. “There’s not a job a man can do that a woman can’t,” she vehemently contends.
Myers, who describes herself a controversial and confrontational change agent, says there should be more apprenticeship programs to meet the need for heavy equipment operators. She proposes partnerships with companies which can provide resources and on-the-job training. To those students who already are taking advantage of the opportunity, she says, “Now is your time!”
For information about Myers Crossing, LLC Heavy Equipment Operation Training contact Vermell Meaders at (843) 345-5214, email: [email protected] or Debbie Myers at (908) 432-3076, email: [email protected]/[email protected] Tuition funding is available through SC Works.