Payem Dehesh (left) provides crane operator training.

Payem Dehesh (left) provides crane operator training.

For local construction crane operator Payam Dehesh, Covid-related physical distancing requirements are providing an unexpected opportunity to grow his Gardena-based crane operator training business.

Dehesh started the National Crane Academy with his wife, Arshia, in 2013 to train construction workers to get licensed as crane operators. Dehesh said his academy is one of a handful of crane operator training centers in Southern California and among several dozen nationwide, almost all with a tight focus on particular geographic regions.

The training course has included two days of classroom instruction per month, followed by a written exam and then hands-on instruction on a construction crane Dehesh set aside from his other business: a crane rental and service company in Long Beach.

Then, the trainees take a licensing exam from the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators. A licensed crane operator typically earns in the low six-figures, Dehesh said.

Dehesh charges about $2,000 per trainee. Construction companies that employ the trainees often pick up some or all of the cost. A typical class consists of about eight trainees.

Dehesh said his revenue last year from the training academy was a little over $100,000; he said he supplements that with revenue from his crane rental business and by continuing to operate cranes himself for construction companies.

But then the Covid-19 pandemic hit, triggering physical distancing requirements and shutdowns of onsite business activities.

“We were forced to cancel our late February class and haven’t been able to hold physical classes since,” Dehesh said.

With his business in danger of closing, he moved the classroom training online. The hands-on crane instruction could still proceed because it has always been one on one.

In taking the class online, however, Dehesh realized he could do something he never dreamed of with his onsite classroom instruction: He could take it national, greatly increasing the pool of people to sign up as trainees.

“The crane operator training industry has always been regionally focused because it’s classroom instruction followed by training on a physical crane,” Dehesh said.

In some instances, training companies in different areas use the same course material for the classroom instruction. But to his knowledge, a national training approach hasn’t been tried before. “This is the chance to ... develop a national focus,” he said.

But there’s still one major challenge: making sure that, wherever enrollees are based, there is a physical crane available for the hands-on instruction portion of the course.

Dehesh is now trying to set up agreements with construction companies across the nation to make cranes available for the hands-on segment. He said he’s already reached agreements with a couple of construction companies.

Once enough of those agreements are in place, Dehesh said he will be ready.

And with most of the construction industry considered an essential business, Dehesh said the time is right. “There’s a tremendous backlog of work, so demand for crane operators is high,” he said. “This coronavirus crisis is providing the opportunity to grow this company.”

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