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On a steamy Saturday morning in a dusty Tulsa warehouse space, a group of about 18 people stands around a forklift, watching its operator try to use its forks to place a basketball on a bright orange traffic cone.
The observers are part of an innovative new program sponsored by Goodwill Industries of Tulsa that teaches forklift driving skills to under- or unemployed area residents.
Going to the Rodeo
Once participants complete the three-session training class, they are invited to participate in the Forklift Rodeo, competing for trophies, a championship ring, and — most importantly — bragging rights that they are the top forklift operator in the class, according to Sabrina Ware, director of TulsaWORKS, the co-sponsor of the program.
Forklift rodeos typically are skills competition that pit experienced operators against others within the same company, region or industry. But the Goodwill forklift rodeo has a different objective: Teaching people new technical skills they can use to improve the quality of their lives.
To enroll in the class, participants must be at least 18 years old although the median age is between 30 and 40. Some are already working as forklift operators and are simply looking for ways to improve their skills, while others have never sat behind the wheel of a forklift and are seeking a new skill they can use to get a better paying job, Ware said.
The program uses three new Toyota electric forklifts and one older Hyster propane-powered vehicle. Using different types of forklifts allows participants to become accustomed to the types of forklifts they may have to drive in on the job situations.
Competing for Braggin’ Rights
After the free training, participants can test their skills by driving through an obstacle course of sorts that Ware calls the Forklift Rodeo. Drivers must safely move their forklifts through figure eights while dodging strategically placed dummies that represent the pedestrians they will face in the real world.
Driving the course costs $25, but that’s nothing compared with the $16 to $18 per hour course participants can make once they get a job driving a forklift. Plus, there’s a chance to win the coveted trophies and championship ring.
Competition among the participants can be fierce, Ware said.
The Forklift Rodeo course and the class both are held at the Helms Center, a former tire warehouse that has been converted into a Goodwill job training facility and warehouse for donated goods.
There’s also job placement services for drivers who successfully complete the program, according to Ware.