Gray & Son Partners With ABC to Pave the Way in Virtual Training

October 21, 2021

At Gray & Son, employee safety and education is a core value. However, obtaining the skills and training to successfully operate heavy machinery can take years of experience on the job site. Our team at Gray & Son recognized this challenge in the industry and wanted to make a change. Thus, the George Palmer Equipment Operator Simulation Training Room was born. Thanks to our dedicated team and a partnership with Associated Builders and Contractors Greater Baltimore (ABCGB), the essential skills required to safely operate machinery can be developed through realistic simulations and supplemental experiences in the classroom. 

Building the George Palmer Equipment Operator Simulation Training Room at ABCGB

The George Palmer Equipment Operator Simulation Training Room -- named in honor of George Palmer, former owner and Chairman of the Board of Gray & Son and an original founding member of the Associated Builders and Contractors-- offers experiences that directly mimic operator experiences out in the field. The room includes two state-of-the-art simulators designed to replicate the feel and motion of six different pieces of heavy machinery, including the excavator, dozer, motor grader, front-end loader, front-end dump, and backhoe. They can be used individually to train operators on individual functions of their machines, or cohesively, just as equipment is used in the field. Students can practice excavating a job site on one simulator and then dump the dirt into a waiting dump truck, which is the other simulator being operated by a classmate. 

Although virtual, the simulators offer as close to the real experience as one could get. They are built on a motion platform that adjusts and shakes as students “dig.” “It actually moves the platform like what you’d feel out in the field,” said Rick Sheetz, COO of Gray & Son. “Our guys who have used them say it feels like the real deal.” 

The Operator Simulation Training Room is the vision of current chairman and CEO of Gray & Son, Bob Webbert, who recognized the need for training opportunities at ABCGB outside of those in vertical trades. 

When learning of the expansion at ABCGB, Webbert and his wife Barbara were eager to help fund the development of a machine operation training room, in honor of the man who had already done so much for the industry. 

The Team Behind the Dream 

Once the Gray & Son team recognized the need for a realistic simulator, they set to work developing the necessary curriculum for training. This was no small task- over 812 hours of work went into developing the program. Planning began in December of 2020 and the training room was revealed in July of 2021. 

One of the major contributors to the project was Anita Hicks, Manager of Training and Development at Gray & Son. Hicks logged 475 hours developing the training for the heavy equipment operator simulators. She emphasized creating an efficient and effective program that develops more than just a student’s ability to operate a machine. This aligns with Gray & Son’s goal to provide a career that offers upward mobility within the company. 

“I’m putting all of the learning practices and adult learning we’ve learned on the field into the program,” said Hicks. “It’s very effective training- you don’t want to just put a simulator in a room and put equipment operators on there. You want to train them on how to become effective. You want to give them soft skills, too.” It is developing these soft skills that allows an intern to grow into an Assistant Project manager in just a few years with Gray & Son. 

Hicks worked alongside experts in the field, including Superintendent Doug Coughlin and Superintendent Mike Davis. Both Coughlin and Davis have been with Gray & Son for decades, Davis for 48 years and Coughlin for 27. They have seen the company grow and were honored to be a part of the next chapter of Gray & Son’s history. Coughlin contributed over 93 hours in designing the project and Davis logged 71 hours. They were able to provide further insight into what an employee needs to be well-versed on when they step onto a job site. 

Operations Management Specialist Chris Drussell was also a major player in the development of the training material.  After completing internships with Gray & Son in 2017 and 2018, Drussell was hired full-time in 2020. One of his first tasks was working alongside Hicks to create a comprehensive and effective training curriculum. He logged 173 hours on the project. 

The team exceeded expectations and created a ground-breaking curriculum that will help to shape the future of construction training. They have been honored with the company’s Above & Beyond Award. 

 Gray & Son Paves the Way in Construction Training & Safety

At Gray & Son, we pride ourselves on our commitment to safety. The simulators and the curriculum developed around them are a testament to our dedication to our employees and the industry. All of this would not be possible without the hours of hard work and dedication put in by Gray & Son team members Anita Hicks, Doug Coughlin, Mike Davis, Chris Drussell, and many more. We’re incredibly proud of how they paved the way to create the future of construction training and are eager to see how they continue to develop the program. 

Sources for this article include the Spring 2021 Edition of "Building Baltimore". To read more about the George Palmer Equipment Operator Simulation Training Room, check out the  Spring 2021 Edition of “Building Baltimore”, pages 8-11.