Graduates of a new forestry equipment operator program say they are ready to get to work.

“The program has given me the knowledge I need to excel,” said Alkali Lake resident Sheldon Paul during the grad celebration held Friday at the Old School Training and Recreation Complex in Riske Creek.

“There was a lot to learn that I didn’t know about operating heavy equipment.”

Rachel Jeff, the only woman in the program, said she was a haul truck driver at three different mines but decided to go into forestry.

“I conquered the buncher before the boys did,” she smiled, adding her home community is Redstone.

“The skidder was easy like truck driving, which is not what I wanted to do.”

The program was delivered by Velocity Training Inc. out of Vernon, ran for six weeks and saw students doing four weeks of heavy equipment operation and two weeks of entrepreneur work.

“We offer mobile training and go into communities all over Canada and the world,” said owner Shawn Bonnough, adding they train anywhere from 300 to 400 students a year.

Toosey Band forestry manager Craig Kennedy said the program was made possible with help from Tsi Del Del Enterprises, Tolko, West Fraser, Sapp Logging, Kenny and Debbie Ilnicki Development, Chilcotin Plateau Enterprises and the Cariboo Chilcotin Aboriginal Training Employment Centre (CCATEC).

As he congratulated each grad, CCATEC community worker Isadore Phillips said one of the neat things about the program was the fact the students came from Alkali, Redstone and Toosey.

“Three different communities from two different nations came together,” Phillips said. “This program is about allowing our youth to come forward and identifying with each other.”

Also on Friday, the students presented business plans to a panel of financiers and bankers from RBC, All Nations Trust and Community Futures.

Bonnough told the students he was impressed with the their presentations.

The Old School Training and Recreation Complex opened in the old Riske Creek School after eight youth from Toosey worked for seven months to renovate it.

There are dorms, a kitchen, wood shop, classrooms and a gym in the school for use.