Photo of Joe O'Grady in front of construction equipment

Joe O’Grady is the teacher for the new Heavy Equipment Operation and Maintenance program at Rensselaer Educational Center in Troy.

Students interested in learning how to operate and maintain large, construction-related equipment such as backhoes, dozers, excavators and forklifts will have their chance to acquire those skills and more in REC’s Heavy Equipment Operation and Maintenance class. This two-year program will help students learn to diagnose and repair diesel engines and heavy machinery for potential careers as a truck mechanic, CDL-B driver or Heavy Equipment Operator.

The instructor of this program, Mr. Joe O’Grady, brings decades of experience in the heavy equipment field to share with his students, as he spoke about in the following interview.

Tell us about your background.  I grew up in Troy and went to Lansingburgh High School and was having some challenges in what to choose for my next step. After graduation, I joined and honorably served four years in the Marine Corps. After my service, I entered the field of road construction, obtained a Commercial Driver’s license and found I loved working with the equipment, the trucks and started a successful career in civil construction. My most recent employment was at New Castle Construction in Troy.

Why were you interested in becoming the Heavy Equipment teacher at Questar III? When I heard about the Heavy Equipment Program, I knew it would be a great opportunity for me to share my experiences with younger, prospective heavy equipment employees. It was a great fit as I have had a love for training and educating young men and women throughout my career. It is a chance for me to offer hands-on training, and also pass on the information from my formal education that included a Diesel Equipment Technology Degree from Texas State, and a Construction Management Degree from Northlake College in Dallas, Texas.

Why is there a need for this program? The importance of this program is reflected in the construction industry market in the Capital Region, and the lack of trained people. Being out in the field, every day I saw the need of construction crews that were understaffed and companies looking for skilled employees.

What is most important for students to know who are going into this field? Students will need to know the importance of communication; of safety and technology. They will need to be introduced to today’s technology, with more computer-operated equipment. Students will need a realistic picture of the construction industry market. They need the courage to hop in a cab on a piece of heavy equipment and apply their skills. I have seen students who are apprehensive about operating the equipment as well as the challenges and rigor of the field. I will encourage them to get going and give it a try.

What are the most important work skills/qualities for someone to be a success in this career? Safety is paramount, as the equipment can be a challenge to operate. Students will need to be well-trained on the equipment and have computer skills. They need to be willing to learn, to be dependable on projects that can start early in the morning and last until evening, work in a cohesive team environment and especially take good care of themselves and their health to be ready for work each day.

What are the types of career opportunities available? Graduates would be able to find employment as a crew member, an equipment operator and eventually move on to any number of careers such as a foreman, project manager, shop mechanic, truck driver, entrepreneur, or even one day a teacher!

What do you hope students will have learned and/or achieved by the end of the year? I hope students will have learned about the great opportunities in the construction/heavy equipment industry. If they make that choice, they can have a rewarding lifestyle and be in a career that they love. They will learn about the feeling it brings when after working hard on a big project, when it’s done they can drive by and get a sense of satisfaction and pride in being a part of something beautiful. Building roads, parking lots and other construction projects help shape a community – and they will realize the importance of their work.

Any additional thoughts? This new program is starting as an empty classroom, a blank space. I am looking forward to being able to take this blank space and turn it into a great program for Questar III students. From graduating from Lansingburgh High School through to the present, I have been fortunate to enjoy being in a career I loved and now I look forward to embracing this opportunity as the next challenge in my life. I am excited to pass on to the next generation the knowledge and skills that enabled my career dreams to come true.


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