Industry experts reveal training trends

10 October 2017

Bo collier cropped

Bo Collier, president, Crane Tech

Safety training in the crane, rigging and specialized transportation sector is an ongoing process that is constantly evolving. Trends develop into standards and then standards change. American Cranes & Transport asked six training experts to identify the trends they are seeing in today’s training environment. Our expert panel includes Crane Tech’s Bo Collier, ATS’ Dan Swiggum, Pellow Engineering’s Don Pellow, CICB’s Jerry Longtin, CIS’ Debbie Dickinson and IMPACT’s Les Worley.

We asked them to cover simulators, demographics, most popular courses and certifications, recertification, hands-on training, training challenges and the most effective training methods.

Crane Tech

During Crane Tech’s 40-year history I have seen training trends come and go. But one thing remains steady, and that is the need for operators and riggers to be appropriately trained and then qualified by the employer to operate the crane or rig a load, in addition to the certification requirements that have been proposed for crane operators since 2010.

As a result of the upcoming certification deadline, we are seeing both experienced, qualified operators who are now seeking certification for the first time come through our courses, as well as individuals looking to change their career. For the experienced operators, they come into our NCCCO certification prep course with very little experience using load charts. These operators have relied on their load moment indicators (LMIs) for so long that using charts and reading chart notes is foreign to them. Learning how to methodically work out a solution for various mobile crane load chart scenarios is difficult. Math skills are an ever-present challenge, especially when presented with having to find percentages for duty cycle operations or critical lift restrictions. Reading comprehension can be a stumbling block for these operators who must learn OSHA and ASME standards versus knowing the old school methods for operation. It is for reasons such as these that we hear how effective our course is in preparing operators for their exams.

Dan swiggum

Dan Swiggum, business development manager/chief crane instructor, ATS Inc. 

With the potential for new infrastructure and the need for certified operators, we are seeing more people looking to change their vocation. This brings an older generation to training. Possibly they were heavy haul drivers, earth machine operators or even from non-construction trades. With people who have little-to-no operating experience moving from one industry into crane operation, we see the need for hands-on training growing. As a result, our most popular training courses are multi-week courses where personnel learn crane theory and crane safety followed by hands-on training on the actual cranes.

Associated Training Services

Even though a lot of training providers have started to lean toward using simulators, at ATS we do not use simulators for two reasons: There is no substitute for the real thing, and most students are new to the industry and have a real desire to operate actual equipment.

We have seen a positive influx of younger people entering the industry, as well as the ever-dependable military veterans who are starting new civilian careers.

The most popular course at ATS is our Mobile Crane Operations Level-1, which helps the student get NCCCO certifications on small and large hydraulic cranes. The students then typically take the ATS Rigging and Signalperson Program and Class-A Commercial Driver Training Program as add-ons. With these types of certifications and licenses, ATS graduates are very employable. Many ATS graduates return to take additional training and NCCCO exams. ATS has been continuously adding equipment and programs as we see the industry needs increasing. One of our biggest challenges has been find good instructors. We are always looking for that person who has worked in the industry and is wishing to pass on his/her skills and knowledge to the next generation.

Pellow Engineering

Don pellow head and shoulders 9 11 13 dsc1216

Don Pellow, P.E., Pellow Engineering Services

Rigging and crane training has progressed from using only hands-on techniques at construction sites to incorporating simulators in the classroom, and to the most current trends of online, interactive involvement. While the purpose for training employees in the lifting industry still focuses on safety and correct lifting and handling procedures, the necessary information has become more in-depth with updated and extended OSHA regulations, industry safety standards and new types of lifting devices and rigging hardware. Training is now more sophisticated and demanding. However, the foundation for thorough and practical training is in the final understanding and applying of safe crane and rigging techniques on the job site.

The beginning of a competent and successful training program is the use of recognized and accepted rigging and crane literature that is easily understood by the participants. The training materials should include basic rigging principles, correct crane setup, signalling between the signal person and the crane operator, OSHA regulations and ASME safety standards, use and inspection of rigging hardware and sling and hardware capacity tables for selecting the appropriate rigging gear.

Face-to-face contact in a classroom environment between the instructor and attendees presents the opportunity of personally gaining a trust between the teacher and students, and in understanding the goals of the training program. The classroom portion of the training should consist of proven successful techniques of incorporating the senses of hearing, seeing and touching:

  • learning through repetition of the words of the instructor,
  • viewing slides/videos,
  • participating in handling and inspecting table-top samples of slings and rigging hardware,
  • completing evaluation forms to insure understanding of the class instructions.

Jerry longtin badge photo

Jerry Longtin, general manager/project operations, CICB

The second portion of this training should be a hands-on experience whereby the trainees participate in applying the information and techniques learned in the classroom. Tying both classroom and hands-on sessions has proven to be the best overall experience for the riggers and crane operators, as indicated in past training evaluation forms.


With almost 50 years of experience and expertise in providing training to the crane and lifting industry, CICB instructors have identified and acknowledged that the most effective method of training is comprised of instructor-led and participant-centered programs, which include an abundance of hands-on training. The goal of each of our training sessions is to provide the participant with the knowledge and a thorough understanding of the applicable reference materials, to apply the tools and techniques learned, accomplish as much hands-on training as possible and to tap into their own resources and those of their colleagues. This instructional approach limits class lecture and engages participants to interact, not only with the instructor, but also with the other participants and a variety of equipment. Participants achieve greater retention levels, gain insight from what they learned and are better equipped to meet their daily projects and goals.

Operator programs should cover all safety aspects of operation as well as hands-on tasks, such as setting up and maneuvering cranes, picking and placing loads, working with mats and cribbing, the fundamentals of rigging and the use of hand signals.

Debbie head shot

Debbie Dickinson, CEO, Crane Industry Services

Simulator training, used in conjunction with hands-on crane training, builds confidence using the controls and computer systems, affords a clear understanding of crane physics and hones the skills an operator will need to develop proficiency in the necessary skills, such as catching a swinging load. With the use of simulators, we can teach and prepare students for worst case scenarios, which cannot be shown on an actual crane. Simulator training can teach them what caused the potential hazard, how to identify the hazard, how to take the necessary steps to correct a hazard, and to plan precautions to avoid the hazard in the future. While simulators are assisting us in training new operators, they are not a substitute for actual hands-on training. Our students understand the difference between the two, and the majority prefer hands-on crane training.

CICB strives to be at the forefront of training, and as such we offer a combination of both hands-on training and simulator training, preparing our students for NCCCO certification exams, and various situations and scenarios they may encounter in the field.

Crane Industry Services

Is there more or less use of simulators? Simulators may closely mirror crane operations look, feel and experience or be smaller, more portable virtual reality devices. Simulators provide safe operator skill development in a much shorter time frame. As with any purchase, buyers beware. The simulator choice should provide job-relevant challenges and be based on equipment the operators use.

We are seeing more differing age groups. The retiring baby boomers topic is not new. However, “boomers” are staying in the workforce longer than originally predicted. CIS’ recent Mobile Crane Operator classes have had trainees aged 19 to mid-50s. Some trainees are just starting out while others are starting a new career after years of working for employers that use cranes. Cranes and rigging provides interesting work that contributes to visible, lasting results. The younger trainees are interested in high demand opportunities. The second-career trainees are looking for worthwhile jobs they can do for another 10 to 15 years. Both ends of the age spectrum agree that the work is challenging and that crane operation and rigging have highly regarded skill sets.

Lee worley

Lee Worley, director of Apprenticeship and Training, Ironworker Management Progressive Action Cooperative Trust, (IMPACT)

The most popular training courses are rigging and mobile crane operator courses with accredited certification. Supervisors are also engaged in crane site safety and in leader training to observe and document crane operator qualifications. The most popular certifications are Mobile Crane Operators of Telescopic Boom Cranes, or Boom Trucks.

There are two noteworthy certification trends, one positive, and one negative. Recertification is supposed to be limited to operators with sufficient seat time and experience as a designated crane operator. However, operators with little seat time, practice or training since certification are applying for recertification. Prospective candidates have said, “I sure hope I never have to actually operate the crane. I’ve not been in a crane since I took my test.” That employee is not a true recertification candidate. However, since the proposed regulator text posted by OSHA in May, a new trend is to focus on operator qualification. If an operator is due for recertification, the qualification process provides more hands-on time and evaluation, which in turns builds skill.

Certification is a part of qualification but certification alone does not equate to qualification.

Wisely, organizations are adding days to training to allow time for hands-on training, in addition to certification classroom preparation. On-the-job learning, supervised trainee time, simulators and virtual reality systems are providing a variety of learn and do opportunities.

There are still many training challenges? If the sum of training is a few days every five years, how much skill and knowledge could possibly result? Optimal training provides people with the knowledge, skill and ability to gain and master skill sets.

Combining hands-on and classroom training is the most effective training method. Have trainees explain and perform the work simultaneously. Create an efficient workplace by providing on-the-job learning with supervised practice time. Formally train in the classroom and hands-on with equipment. Schedule on-the-job learning to reinforce training.


Crane tech coaching

Demand is strong for new certified crane operators. A leading trend is more people are changing vocations. This brings an older generation to training. 

The world of crane and transport training has seen a few notable trends in the recent years and the Iron Workers (IW) has responded with agility. The IW is providing widely recognized training and qualifications that exceed OSHA requirements. A notable certification provider lists the IW Ironworker Rigging Manual as a study resource for its certification test. The IW rigger and signal person training and qualification program meets the Canadian National Occupational Analysis (NOA) requirements. Southern Company and Crosby among other prominent companies have recognized the IW program.

The IW has set the bar high in qualified rigger and signal person training and qualification requiring a minimum of 80 hours of rigging and cranes training including 23 units of instruction and 700 field experience hours in addition to unit testing, assignments and practical exercises. Verification of training and qualification includes an electronic member records database and a Quick Response Code for easy verification.

Crane tech classroom training1

Face-to-face contact in a classroom environment between the instructor and attendees presents the opportunity of personally gaining a trust between the teacher and students.

A notable trend in the IW training is the heavy emphasis placed on practical application despite the high cost of training equipment. The IW 40-hour rigging and 40-hour cranes courses are the most highly sought-after courses offered and serve as a foundation for the IW qualified rigger and signal person qualifications. Hands-on training constitutes 50 percent of each course. A combination of technical instruction and hands-on learning and “read it-see it-perform it” approach has proven to be the most effective method of training. Written tests evaluate knowledge while practical tests evaluate skills. To top it all off, a final real world practical application is required.

One of the most notable developments in training is the use of virtual reality simulators. They are fun and exciting but come with a hefty price tag. While there’s no denying that virtual reality adds a third dimension to training, hands-on training cannot be replaced. Virtual reality can be used as a substitute for hands-on training in limited occasions where cost of equipment and safety are concerns.

OSHA requires riggers to be qualified, and signal persons to be evaluated by a third party but does not require accredited certification and recertification. However, some certification providers are selling 3-5-year certifications, creating a demand for them over OSHA requirements.

The absence of comprehensive training and cost of existing industry certifications are the reasons behind IW’s new rigging and signal person certification program. Sponsored by IMPACT – IW’s contractor-ironworker partnership – it will simplify the certification process and eliminate the high price tag for ironworkers and their employers. Both contractor and ironworker subject matter experts developed the written and practical evaluations of the program using the Job Task Analysis (JTA) method. The IW certification program will be implemented by the end of year and begin the process of seeking National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) accreditation.  

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