By Arnold Huerta, AEM Director, Global Business Development-Latin America

If the results of a recent focus group in Chile are any indication, the lack of qualified equipment operators continues to hinder our industry’s progress in Latin America.

I have conducted several focus groups in the region on behalf of AEM and have met with many of the region’s key contractors. In nearly every case, they identify insufficient operator training, lack of operator competencies and equipment-related injuries as their primary concerns.

On the construction side, there is arguably a lack of equipment training programs available through any in-country organization. Currently, training is conducted mainly by each local equipment distributor upon start-up time and/or when requested by end-users.

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that sometimes the pool of available operators in remote areas cannot read and write. I have talked with many contractors that have been forced to lower their own standards/requirements because of this situation.

Contractors admit that these challenges affect their bottom lines. They cite examples of lost productivity and profitability due to improper equipment use, along with missed deadlines and expense for additional resources to complete projects.

To meet these challenges, contractors in the region are developing their own training programs. Some are implementing them independently while others are collaborating with local organizations. However, based on what I hear from key industry players in the region, more needs to be done.

AEM and its members have contributed greatly to this cause. To address these challenges, a subcommittee called the Latin American Training Committee (LATC) was formed in November 2008 to identify, evaluate and prioritize issues, methods and industry concerns in the field of training which could potentially impact AEM member companies and their products in the Latin American markets.  

A meeting in September 2010 between the LATC and the CE Regional Management Committee (RMC), formerly called CE Latin America Advisory Committee (LAAC), resulted in the completion of an Operator Training Benchmark Outline for the Latin American region. 

This was a major achievement since it resulted in the creation of a unified document involving the knowledge and expertise of many of the leading construction equipment brands in the region.

In addition, AEM has been working with the Chilean Development Corporation (CDT), a branch of the Chilean Construction Chamber, for the past 11 years on several initiatives including adopting/promoting TC-127 Standards and increasing awareness on equipment safety.  

As a result of this partnership, the CDT formed a committee which developed a list of competencies required to operate off-highway equipment. Some of these requirements (which may seem basic to us in the U.S.) include ability to read and write, be at least 18 years old, and have a license type “D” (to operate self-propelled machinery including tractors, planters, bulldozers, backhoes, wheel loaders, graders, and cranes). 

There is no doubt that all of the local players, including equipment distributors, contractors, industry trade associations and equipment manufacturers, need to work together to address these challenges.

By doing so, everyone in the industry will be able to achieve four very important objectives: 

  • reduce the number of accidents
  • foster the image that the construction and agriculture equipment industries are safe working environments
  • deter in-country governments from regulating the construction and agriculture equipment industries
  • increase contractor productivity and profitability

This is an issue that is best tackled as an industry. We cannot pretend that it will go away on its own. Please email me your ideas and suggestions (ahuerta@aem.org). We hope you can join us in this very important cause. 

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