ESS + Northark College: A Partnership Built to Last

Whitney Butler | Tuesday April 6, 2021
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This story begins when Emery Sapp & Sons (ESS) employee-owner Marty Hilton noticed a group of college students learning how to operate heavy machinery on a project located at the Boone County Regional Airport in Harrison, Arkansas. Marty noticed the students were doing a heck of a job. So he started asking questions around the jobsite. He got some unexpected answers! He learned that North Arkansas College (Northark) was offering students a unique education opportunity through their Construction Equipment Operator Program. It wasn’t your average on-the-job training. ESS isn’t your average civil contractor. With both firms aiming to provide premier experiences, Marty decided it was a good idea for our two organizations to join forces. From what we can see thus far, the partnership between ESS and Northark is proving to be an exciting new collaboration with unlimited potential.

Northark’s Construction Equipment Operator program is two semesters long and teaches students how to properly operate and maintain heavy construction equipment used for grading and excavation. What’s so unique about this program? Northark offers the ONLY Construction Equipment Operator program in the country that does construction education on REAL job sites, for REAL clients. Cue the reason Marty was so blown away by what he was seeing on the project. It’s not everyday you see students that are able to run equipment in an environment with real life challenges. Students learn how to navigate utility and drainage issues as well as inspections by engineers and the state.

ESS began its partnership with Northark in 2020 after Marty pitched the opportunity to key members of the ESS leadership team. “Finding out it was a local college that has this type of program was exactly what we needed, especially for the growth we are experiencing in this area. We’re looking for young people coming into our industry and the opportunity to give them a chance at a great career,” Marty described.

Chad Hathaway has been the instructor for this program for six years and is thrilled for his students to have the opportunity to experience internships and On the Job Training (OJT) hours while working on ESS projects. “Emery Sapp has set the precedence for all other construction companies by going above and beyond to make it convenient for students to earn their OJT with them.” In fact, since we started the partnership a year ago, ESS has already hired 2 students from the program and has several more interning with us now. According to Chad, “They are die hard wanting to work for Emery Sapp, there are no other options in their book.” We can’t say we blame them for feeling that way.

But the partnership between ESS and Northark doesn’t stop there. Northark also offers an accredited Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) program. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, starting in February 2022 every new CDL driver will have to go through an accredited program to test for their license. This means no more borrowing uncle Tom’s truck and trailer next door to go pass your test. ESS wanted to get ahead of the game to ensure all new CDL drivers went through an approved program that met all of the new requirements. In the spirit of partnership, Northark created a CDL course exclusively available to ESS employee-owners.

Why is the Northark CDL program such a big deal? This program is no joke. Before aspiring CDL drivers attend in-person training, they must complete 35 chapters of general trucking industry knowledge course work and pass an exam with an 85% or higher. Only after participants have passed the exam with flying colors are they eligible to begin in-person training with Northark instructors. Although there is not a specific amount of required training hours, the majority of program participants spend 1-2 weeks training with Northark to prepare to take the CDL test at the state police facility. The first cohort of ESS participants finished up in March and we are proud to say that 26 employee-owners grinded it out and received their Class A CDL!

Our employee-owners are loving the opportunity to accelerate their career by taking this company-sponsored course. Employee-owner Jason Clancy was one of the recent graduates of the program. He described how passionate the instructors are, and how they were always willing to go the extra mile for their students. “From the moment I walked in the door everyone was so nice, you could tell they truly cared about each student’s success. There wasn’t a question you couldn’t ask and they didn’t push us to do anything that we weren’t comfortable with,” said Jason. He enjoyed the program so much that he had t-shirts made with ESS and Northark Truck Driving Program on them. He wanted those involved with the program to be able to rep the partnership whenever their hearts desired.

Charlie Duggan, along with Mike Blevins and Jose Camacho, are the three instructors of the course. There are typically two students per instructor which allows for plenty of one-on-one time both on the road and in the classroom. Charlie and his team recognize what a significant investment ESS is making when they send employee-owners to this training. Each day an employee-owner attends the course, that’s one day they are away from their projects and not contributing to production. “You guys have a business to run and I understand that. We can’t shut down jobs for this so we are working with ESS everyday so we can be as efficient as possible,” shared Charlie.

This partnership is just beginning, and we can’t wait to see what’s in store for future students of Northark and employee-owners at ESS. Both Chad and Charlie raved about how ESS goes above and beyond to help their students be successful. Apparently the feeling is mutual. Jason Clancy said it best, “If we had more instructors like them in other programs, everyone would pass their course work and be passionate about their future in construction.” #goals