She-Dig 2022 Introduces high school girls to equipment operating careers

by Wendy Turrell

Recently, 119 girls from nine Northeast Ohio high schools and career centers attended the Ohio Operating Engineers Apprenticeship and Training “She-Dig 2022” event at its facility on Newton Road in Richfield. The students were invited to learn about Local 18’s OOE apprenticeship programs and try operating heavy equipment. She-Dig attracted students from Summit, Medina and Portage counties and from as far away as Ashtabula County and Conneaut City Schools.

Said event organizer Alisha Stekle, “It’s an initiative to expose women to the construction industry. We’re an inclusive organization, and equal opportunity is extremely important to our organization.”

She-Dig 2022 began in the training facility’s classroom, where instructors gave an overview of the four-year heavy equipment apprenticeship program. Apprentices shared their experiences and insights with the students, too. After these preliminaries, the event progressed to the 31,600 square-foot all-weather training building, where the real fun began.

Under the careful guidance of instructors or third-year apprentices, each high school girl could try operating backhoes of various sizes, as well as a construction crane. Outside it was pouring rain, but the dirt-floor structure enabled the backhoe demonstrations to go on without interruption. The cavernous training building could not accommodate the massive crane, but the girls eagerly braved the elements outside to get a turn.

The OOE apprenticeship and training program is a nonprofit educational organization funded by Operating Engineers Local 18. Stekle said that 85 cents from each hour of wages earned by local members goes toward the nonprofit Ohio Operating Engineers Fund. The fund supports the students’ training through the four-year program. The only cost to students is the $20 testing fee.

Each year of the four-year apprenticeship has rigorous requirements that include classroom instruction, on-the-job training and various levels of testing and certification. At the end of the apprentice training, students graduate with certificates of completion as operating engineers and can be employed as journeymen.

Ohio Operating Engineers Apprenticeship and Training has four sites in Ohio. In addition to Richfield, these include Cygnet, Logan and Miamisburg. Each site also collaborates with a local community college. Richfield is affiliated with Cuyahoga Community College, the others with Owens Community College and Columbus State Community College.

 “When the apprentices attend and complete their classes at our apprenticeship, they receive credit from the school associated with their training site,” Stekle said. “Our apprenticeship graduates earn a Certificate of Completion as an operating engineer. The apprentices can take classes, in addition to those we require, to earn Associates of Applied Science in Industrial Technology with a concentration in Operating Engineer.”

Some of the sites also offer a Maintenance Technician Apprenticeship program, although the Richfield campus does not.

At a minimum starting wage of $38 per hour for beginning journeymen, an Operating Engineer’s income compares favorably with many traditional college degree career tracks.

Old-fashioned stereotypes did not apply to this group of capable high school students. Portage Lakes Career Center student Lily Boggs enthused after her turn at the backhoe controls, “I have just always loved construction,” she said.

Medina Career Center student Courtney Smith described her motivation for pursuing an Operating Engineers career, saying, “My Dad works on all kinds of mechanical stuff, and he got me interested. … Coming out of this program, I will be earning money right away and not be several thousands of dollars in debt.”

Keziah Kisher is already in the Power Equipment Program at Medina Career Center. “This is just a lot of fun, having hands-on experience,” she said, describing She-Dig’s appeal.

Anyone, female or male, interested in the Ohio Operating Engineers Apprenticeship program will find more information on its website at, where applications for the program can be filled out. Prospective students must pass an exam to be admitted. Those that pass will be called for an interview. ∞

Featured Photo: An apprentice at Ohio Operating Engineers (right) instructs a girl who attended the She-Dig on how to operate a crane.
Photo by W. Turrell.