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When Drew Battersby joined the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada regiment 23 years ago, he figured a little adventure and discipline as a part-time reservist was just what he needed.
But while the military side of his life has gone well — for one thing, he spent six and a half months in Bosnia as part of NATO peacekeeping operation in 1998 — he hasn't been able to find steady, well-paying work in the Hamilton area.
He has bounced from dead-end job to dead-end job because he lacks the skills to build a career on.
More recently, though, his Hamilton-based regiment — along with a heavy machinery training school — has taken a huge step to change the fortunes of Battersby and other reservists struggling in a tough economy.
Battersby, a 39-year-old corporal who is married and a father of one, recently became the first Argyll graduate of a five-week heavy equipment training scholarship at the Robar Centre, a private career college on Nebo Road in Hamilton.
The course usually costs $10,000 per student but the owners are extending free scholarships — at least one a year for the next five years — as a philanthropic gesture to help Argyll reservists.
While Battersby hasn't yet landed a job with his new credentials, he is confident something will come together soon. He said he learned a lot in the program and a heavy machinery operation is ideal for him because he likes working with his hands.
Graduates are trained to operate bulldozers, backhoes and other heavy machinery. They usually start at $18 to $19, but can make a lot more than that working construction projects in more remote regions of the country. The owners of the company say 87 per cent of graduates find work in the field.
Honorary Lt. Col. Rick Kennedy says, "In this economy we have a lot of young people who have trouble finding meaningful work. So we think this is wonderful stuff.
"Reservists make good employees. They have been trained, have discipline. They pay attention to detail. They have been physically challenged, possibly seeing action in Afghanistan and Bosnia."
That's consistent with the thinking of Susan Edwards, the president of Robar. But she notes, "They come back from a commission overseas and there is really no job for them because they need some skills training. It is our way to give something back to the community to help them with this."
Battersby says the program is a great opportunity for reservists who are "stuck" trying to better themselves in civilian life.
"A lot of reservists want to become police officers but the competition is tough and few make it," he said.
"A lot of guys don't know what to do. They lack education and they sort of get stuck and they are not really sure what avenue to take."
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