I learned how to drive a skid steer when a bored friend of mine decided he needed to build a pump track.That’s what happens when landscapers realize they own heavy equipment during a recession, have piles of dirt and a little extra time. Lucky for me, my friend also just started loving bikes. What a dilemma.All he wanted was somebody to tell him where to put the piles of dirt. I was so excited by the mounds of dirt, a field full of large rock tables and logs of all sizes to drop into our fantasy track. The first thing I wanted was a seven-foot berm. “We’ll work from here!” I shouted in glee. It was like Disney World sponsored by Case. My kids picnicked in the excavator, climbed all over the bulldozer, and took turns sitting in my lap to drive the skid steer – as if I knew what I was doing. Jeff shouted instructions to me from across the way: “The left handle moves you forward and backward! The right one moves the bucket!”That’s it?! I acted brave and climbed into the machine, snapping the bar down snugly across my lap in case I found myself upside down at any point. The engine easily cranked as everyone stopped to watch what might happen, comic book thought bubbles blossoming above their heads. Mostly I wanted my kids to know that their mom can do ANYTHING. It keeps them aware when they’re being bad.I jerked the thing forward and laughed at how I felt more like R2D2 than Sigourney Weaver.“Pack this dirt down as I dump it, and move some of this dirt over to the berm!” Jeff shouted.I was amazed that he thought this was such a simple possibility. Only my girlfriend watching knew I was in above my head and shouted encouraging words and advice from the sidelines. I drove over to the dirt pile and began my version of scooping, which was more like jamming the bucket into the ground and tilting the machine backwards. Oops. I managed to pick up a bit of dirt and drove over to the berm to dump it. I could have carried more in my arms. Then I couldn’t back the thing out without spinning around or crashing into the excavator. Jeff threw me a quizzical look and I just laughed, not knowing which part was most humorous. He then sent me to another pile to practice scooping.We drew patterns in the dirt of what the finished track would look like, including a rock table off the side of the berm that allows you to ride across the field and drop into the track. For a week he worked on it, gleaning advice from various friends until at last it was ridable.The initial hump leading in has to be perfectly hit or none of the whoopdiewhoops work. The last hump before the berm is so tall that it requires good speed on the five humps leading up to it. With the right speed, the berm can be run high and fast, looping the return into fits of giggles. More will be added, but for now it’s a great warm-up for Kitsuma, just across the highway. Like anything worthwhile, it will take practice before nailing it, and I’m certain I’ll get better at the skid steer before it’s done.
Dutch pensions administrator Syntrus Achmea Pensioenbeheer has said it will stop providing services to industry-wide pension funds, as its new IT system has struggled to cope with their disparate arrangements.The company said it had been forced to take drastic decision after it became clear the new system could not accommodate the schemes’ various pension plans and numerous “exceptions”.A Syntrus spokesman said the company concluded it could not resolve the issue within a reasonable time period.As a result of its decision, Syntrus is to make “hundreds” of workers redundant. At present, industry-wide pension funds (23) account for about two-thirds of Syntrus’s business.Five of them have left to find new providers, while two others have decided to liquidate next year; Syntrus said it would aim to transfer the remaining 15 schemes before 2019.The pensions administrator is introducing an IT system to increase accuracy and cut costs by at least 20%, with a view to stemming losses at its pensions management business since its inception in 2009.The system is also meant to address quality complaints that had lead to the departure of a number of large clients, such as the pension funds for the retail, confectioner and tyre and wheel sectors.Early last summer, when Syntrus first announced the new system, it warned that it would need to “harmonise” pension plans.Tom van der Spek, director of old-age provision at Syntrus, told IPE sister publication Pensioen Pro that the company would need to invest millions to keep the old system running for its sector scheme clients.“Given their decreasing numbers, the investment would not be justified,” he said.Van der Spek said Syntrus would instead focus on corporate and occupational pension funds, as well on the general pension fund (APF) of insurer Centraal Beheer, which is part of Achmea Group.The company’s spokesman added that Achmea’s strategy would also target asset management growth.The provider services about 70 pension funds, including the 23 sector schemes.The ramifications of Syntrus’s decision for the company’s staff of about 700 remain unclear.The union FNV warned that it expected at least 500 jobs to “disappear” over the next two years; Syntrus has said the figure would be “a few hundreds”.