Skid-steer training success

July 22, 2020 -  By
Skid-steer training session (Photo: The Pattie Group)

Feel it out Operators at The Pattie Group review the ins and outs of skid-steer machines. (Photo: The Pattie Group)

When it comes to skid-steer training at The Pattie Group in Novelty, Ohio, nothing is left to chance, according to COO Frank Bonanno.

“These are pretty heavy machines, and there’s a lot of potential for harm to your body as well as property, so taking your time with this equipment and learning it properly is key,” he says. “People just tend to want to hop on machines and run them, but we take our time to make sure everybody’s doing it properly and safely.”

In order to cover all its bases, The Pattie Group implemented a multistep training program.

First, the company presents new hires with a policy on safety practices, which includes learning how to perform a general inspection of the equipment. New hires are asked to read the operating manuals of the machines and are then introduced to the basic operation of skid-steers. They aren’t allowed on the machine until they demonstrate their knowledge of it.

Only then are crews allowed to practice loading and pushing piles around in the company’s yard, with supervision.

“We have someone observing them, making sure they’re doing things properly and giving pointers if they’re not,” Bonanno says. “We don’t let them run on the jobs until they’re checked off in our yard.”

Once the crew is at the job site, a foreman or project manager supervises and directs trainees to make sure they’re following all protocols.

Additionally, the company hosts two refresher courses per year — one in April and one in August — for seasoned and new employees alike.

“We get all the guys in groups of five or eight around each machine and cover all of our inspection processes as well as basic operation,” he says. “How to load them properly onto the carryalls to get them to the jobs is a big thing.”

The company supplements the training with three- to five-minute videos from organizations such as the National Association of Landscape Professionals on how to transport loads and how to maneuver up and down a hill.

“They’re very quick hitters, and we’ve found that with the quick videos, the crews retain more information,” Bonanno says.

Buck Storlie (Photo: ASV)

Buck Storlie (Photo: ASV)

ASV Holdings

Buck Storlie
Product line manager

First and foremost, new operators can learn much of what they need to know by reading and understanding a machine’s operating manual. The document will likely include safety tips, guides for proper operation and maintenance schedules. If possible, start new operators on a machine with easy-to-learn controls for a faster learning experience. Hand and foot controls are the traditional style but have a higher learning curve. Try starting a new user on a skid-steer with hands-only pilot controls. Beyond the controls, make sure new operators are aware of safety best practices. These include being aware of their surroundings at all times, especially people around the machine. Make sure the operator knows to always wear the seat belt and lap bar, never bypass safety systems, keep all body parts in the cab while operating and not leave the cab while the engine is running.

Kevin Coleman, Caterpillar

Kevin Coleman (Photo: Caterpillar)


Kevin Coleman
Application specialist

An operator should understand four key items: the skid-steer’s capabilities, the job’s requirements, the attachments that are required to get the job done and the condition of the job site. To understand the skid-steer’s capabilities and functions, the machine’s operation manual is the place to start. This manual provides information on safety items, control functions, switch operations and load capabilities. It also provides maintenance information to help keep the machine at its optimum performance level. Next, evaluate what the job entails. Whether it’s lifting, digging or material handling, make sure what needs to be done aligns with the capabilities of the skid-steer being used. Next, explore what attachments are available for use with your skid-steer that will help complete the required job tasks faster and easier. Last, inspect the job site and pay specific attention to obstacles, areas where others may be working, uneven ground conditions and any restricted areas.

Gregg Zupancic (Photo: John Deere)

Gregg Zupancic (Photo: John Deere)

John Deere Construction & Forestry

Gregg Zupancic
Product marketing manager

Before operating, new users should read the manufacturer’s safety and operator manuals so they can learn the machine inside and out. Also, check with your dealer about machine walk-arounds or operator technique clinics to help further explain safe operation. Operators should understand how to properly run machines and leverage the safety and performance features. For example, some machines feature monitor alerts, which let the operator know when the machine is low on fluids or not functioning at the optimal performance level. Additionally, a one-man boom lock system allows the operator to securely lock the boom in the up position for maintenance from the machine cab. Another feature includes monitor settings that can be turned off from within the monitor to prevent engagement of the two-speed travel system. Finally, the electro-hydraulic control system can boost performance by allowing the operator to configure the machine based on experience level or application.

Patrick Baker (Headshot: Kubota)

Patrick Baker (Photo: Kubota)


Patrick Baker
Project manager, construction equipment

The best piece of advice I can give a new skid-steer operator is to be patient. Operating a skid-steer or any other piece of construction equipment takes time, practice and patience. For a new operator, the most important thing to remember is safety. The operator needs to understand how to operate in a safe manner, especially when operating around other people, equipment or in a confined space. Operators must understand the limits of the skid-steer so they don’t put themselves or others around them in a dangerous position. Keys to becoming a good operator are having a basic understanding of the controls; how to properly use the joysticks and foot pedals (if equipped); how to lift, raise and dump the bucket; and how to safely drive the skid-steer forward and backward.

Brett Newendorp (Photo: Vermeer Corp.)

Brett Newendorp (Photo: Vermeer Corp.)


Brett Newendorp
Landscape market manager

At one point or another, every operator was a new operator. We recommend that people new to any machine start by familiarizing themselves with the operator’s manual, so they have a good understanding of the controls and the features of that particular machine. Once that’s completed, new operators should take the time to get used to the machine controls in a safe, secure environment under the supervision of a trained operator. Once they have the basics mastered, it’s essential to give them plenty of time and space to develop their skills. Also, any time new operators use a new attachment for the first time, it’s important to start slow and work their way up to regular production rates. Also, if contractors need additional training support, they should contact their equipment dealers. Many construction equipment dealers have expanded their services to include operator training.

Sarah Webb

About the Author:

Sarah Webb is Landscape Management's former managing editor. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Wittenberg University, where she studied journalism and Spanish. Prior to her role at LM, Sarah was an intern for Cleveland Magazine and a writing tutor.

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