A Conversation with John Hartwell of Operating Engineers 324

We recently had a chance to sit down with John Hartwell, Career and Outreach Coordinator for Operating Engineers 324. He has been in the trade for almost 30 years. Through John, we learned about what operating engineers do and what an exciting trade it is to be in, with every day being a challenging, exciting, and new day. 

John also walks us through the apprenticeship process, the career process in the union, and working conditions. With an earn while you learn model, and pride in the trade, work ethic and leadership skills will take you anywhere. 

Operating Engineers are pretty diverse. The local 324, local to Michigan, is primarily made up of heavy equipment operators including cranes, bulldozers, everything that you would find on a construction job, and covers everything from construction on the highways to the infrastructure, which is all of the underground pipe. These cross country pipelines could be natural gas or crude oil. 

“When I first started in the trades, I couldn’t believe they were paying me. You can wind up anywhere. The beautiful part of the trade is you can really build monuments. There’s a lot of pride in the trades, to know that you built something. It’s an exciting field to be in. Every day is different and exciting,” John stated. 

The essential skills needed in a tradesman are Work Ethic, Leadership Skills, Safety Conscious, Someone that is trainable. The hours really depend on the industry. Most of the work is in the state of Michigan, with training facilities located in Gladstone, Detroit, and Lansing. Part of the training is right at the worksite; a great “earn while you learn” model.

To apply for an apprenticeship, you need a valid Michigan driver’s license, at least 17, and a high school diploma or GED. To learn more, visit oe324.org.