RDO team members in Billings, MT showcased heavy equipment for youngsters and adults alike as part of the Dig It Days event at MontanaFair in late August. Not only was the event a blast, as reported by many young participants, but it was also a chance to put the concepts of another Billings initiative, Build Montana, on full display.
The Purpose behind the Play
At Dig It Days, industry stakeholders like RDO joined to provide hands-on opportunities for the public to operate construction equipment like tractors, backhoes, excavators, and more. True to its name, the event also featured a several-hundred-ton sand mountain, upon which kids climbed and dug for prizes, along with other activities and informational offerings.
This year’s event at MontanaFair marked a significant step up from the first Dig It Days in 2019 – more machines, more sponsors and more sand. RDO contributed several machines and a rotation of about 15 team members to help staff the event over two days.
Billings Store Manager John Hurd was heavily involved with Dig It Days logistics, coordinating setup and staffing needs each day. He has also been a crucial leader of the Build Montana program which aims to expose students to the construction industry and its many career opportunities.
“When we think about careers in the construction industry, it all starts with that excitement you see from young kids climbing the sand mountain or digging a big hole with an excavator,” John said. “I think most of us working in the industry today can think back to early memories just like that.”
Build Montana is a partnership between the Montana Contractors’ Association (MCA), the Montana Equipment Dealers’ Association and is directed through the MCA Education Foundation, to partner with local school districts. Its premise is to not only showcase the construction industry but provide students access to real-world training and job-site experiences that can help them pursue a career in the industry.
A row of booths staffed by regional colleges visibly connected the excitement of Dig It Days with the purpose and opportunity offered by Build Montana.
The program’s pilot phase took place in spring 2021, when six students from Billings School District 2 spent time with RDO and contractor Knife River, learning professional-level curriculum on safety and machine theory, plus hands-on field experiences.
Recognition and Expansion
The connection between Dig It Days and Build Montana was made real at MontanaFair. With a backdrop of construction equipment and a mountain of sand crawling with joyful children, Montana Governor Greg Gianforte announced the expansion of Build Montana in 2022 to Flathead County, meaning more Montana students will have access to the program’s unique opportunities.
John took the lead on RDO’s behalf for the first class of Build Montana participants. As a former educator and technical college president, he brought unique insight to the project in terms of piquing students’ interest through real-world experiences. It is a concept he sees in action at events like Dig It Days and one he finds validated by Gov. Gianforte’s acknowledgment.
“Getting the Governor’s backing was really good to see. To hear him say he supports this cause, that he understands what we’re trying to do, it’s really cool.” John said.
With growing interest from schools and students, and pledges of support from other equipment dealerships, the next steps involve finding the right partner within the education system to help scale the Build Montana framework established last spring.
As for Dig It Days, John said though nothing is set in stone yet, this year’s event was deemed successful all around, and he hopes to be back at MontanaFair next year with even more machinery and more staff.
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