On the road to Europe. For four decades the road construction industry's premier training programme has been teaching road paving practices in the US. For the first time, Volvo Construction Equipment has unveiled plans to bring the Road Institute roadshow to Europe.

Peter Fleming knows his AC from his SMA when it comes to asphalt paving.  The construction industry veteran has been living, breathing and teaching the art of road paving for over 22 years. It's not just about hard hats and traffic control - it's a technical process requiring skilled and highly trained people to work together to construct our roads, playgrounds and car parks. It is Fleming's job to teach them how through the Road Institute, a formal training programme operated by Volvo Construction Equipment from two training facilities in the US. Its philosophy is simple: to teach road construction industry professionals core road building skills and show them how to follow best working practices. From September, Fleming will bring the Road Institute to Europe, offering a new concept of on-site training to Volvo's major dealerships - saving them time and money in the process. 

Still going strong
As one of the first training programmes of its kind in the road building industry, the Road Institute has been teaching the tricks of the trade to paving operators, service technicians, sales people and factory employees for close to 50 years. The concept began in the 1960s, when road construction and the asphalt industry began to gain momentum and machines were becoming more complex. Blaw-Knox, a leading road building equipment manufacturer, saw a need to provide training for technicians and operators of its asphalt paving equipment, so it established a training programme from its factory in Mattoon, Illinois.  Training was mostly conducted at dealer and customer premises, but later a lecture room was added at the factory followed by a custom built training facility in 1988.  The training programme officially became known as the Road Institute in 1997.  In 2007, the Road Institute became part of Volvo Construction Equipment and courses are conducted from its two training facilities in the US (Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, and Phoenix, Arizona). Other Volvo facilities offering similar training are in Bangalore, India, and Hameln, Germany.

Bringing paving to the people
In a first for the Road Institute, on-site training will begin later this year at Volvo's dealerships throughout Europe.  Instructors will visit the dealers and conduct short courses in road machinery operation and application, saving time for dealer staff who would usually have to travel to one of the Road Institute's facilities to undertake two to four day training courses. The European on-site courses will be adapted to focus on European application techniques and tailored to suit each individual dealership's requirements. "It's about trying to be efficient in getting the job done while keeping costs down," says Fleming. Only dealer training will be offered on-site this year, but Fleming says on-site customer training will follow suit in 2010. "In today's financial climate, I'm sure a lot of contractors find it difficult to fly a crew to our training facilities at the moment. This way, it saves time because we would go directly to them.  We can conduct  the course in one or two days and they can go back to work, so there's no extra travelling involved. We could actually run training while they are 'on the job' as we have done in Australia."

Who's running the show?
Fleming began his career in the mid 1960s, when he learned to operate his first piece of heavy construction equipment. He first became involved with pavers in 1973, before joining Blaw-Knox in 1987 as a service training manager. As a highly experienced paving instructor, he is the first person to be given the job of conducting on-site training sessions for the Road Institute throughout Europe. With a dozen paving courses planned for the period between September and the end of the year, Fleming will have his work cut out for him. But he will soon be joined by others. "Eventually, there will be about four instructors, including myself, covering the areas of paving, soil and asphalt compaction, grading and milling," he says. One of those is grading instructor, Marcel Montpetit, who will offer his expertise on grading equipment operation and application. "This is the beginning of a very successful operation for us," says Montpetit. "To make it work, it's important we make this a team effort between us and dealers."

Hands-on paving practice
The courses will consist of theoretical and practical instruction and are aimed at both novices and experts in the industry, from new employees just learning the ropes to veterans keen to refresh their skills and knowledge. "Many course attendees have learned their operating skills on the job, but were sometimes only taught the basics," says Fleming. "It's  up to us to give them the complete picture." Fleming and Montpetit will initially spend time teaching the students the theory behind basic equipment operation and operating principles, such as learning how to control the various factors that affect a screed's performance or how to position a grader and its mouldboard correctly to efficiently move a windrow. But the majority of the course time will be spent conducting outdoor demonstrations and giving students 'hands on' practice in operating Volvo pavers and graders. "A motor grader is one of the most complex machines in the construction industry today and one of the hardest to master," says Montpetit. "This new concept will permit proper machine familiarization on all operational and safety aspects of the machine in a controlled environment." Under Fleming's instruction, the students will take turns at laying a mat and joint matching, as well as learning to adjust a screed and eliminate mat blemishes while undertaking a paving operation. By the end of the course, students should have gained a thorough understanding of pavers and graders and feel confident about operating road building equipment.

The road ahead
Road transport provides over 80% of all transportation in Europe. A well maintained road network is, therefore, imperative to Europe's economic and social development. But road infrastructure maintenance calls for structured planning and highly trained professionals who know how to get the job done correctly, safely and efficiently. "There will always be a need for training," says Fleming. "Machines are continually changing and new technology and operating techniques are being invented all the time." Luckily for the Road Institute, Fleming's passion to continue to teach the principles of paving means the future of the road building industry is in safe hands. "Paving is in my system now," he says. "I miss the smell of the asphalt if I'm away for too long!"

Text: Elizabeth Tilley