Utility projects are on the rise across the country. With the overwhelming demand to replace and maintain our aging infrastructure, employing more horizontal directional drill (HDD) operators has become a priority. Yet, as with many industrial markets today, the underground construction industry is experiencing a shortage of qualified skilled and confident operators and experiencing a growth of novice operators being employed to fill the gap. And furthermore, technology is advancing, challenging experienced operators to keep current to stay productive on HDD jobsites.
To combat the issue, contractors and equipment manufacturers have taken it upon themselves to offer comprehensive training programs that prepare both novice and experienced operators for today’s evolving underground utility jobs.
Comprehensive training prepares novice and experienced operators
For Accu-Bore Directional Drilling, a California-based underground utility installation and rehabilitation company, operating HDD equipment is a staple capability. The 250 employees specializing in gas and electric infrastructure replacement jobs must be prepared to conquer a variety of soil conditions from bay mud to cobble. While having the right equipment in-house has contributed to their success, Accu-Bore employees have also found training vital.
New operators at Accu-Bore devote more than a month getting acclimated to the company’s safety protocol and equipment before operating by themselves. New employees often begin their training with online courses offered through the Ditch Witch Certified HDD Training Program. But, their full training process encompasses a mix of online, classroom and hands-on jobsite training offered through the local Ditch Witch dealership in Central California.
“When new employees are trained by the manufacturing representative, we’re more confident in their ability to operate the equipment on a real jobsite,” said Mike Robirds, president of Accu-Bore. “We have a strong relationship with the Ditch Witch organization, trust them and look to them to get our crews ready for a range of jobs. On top of covering the textbook essentials, training includes a simulation course where our operators can negotiate potential hazards similar to those they will inevitably deal with in the field, providing more confidence prior to starting on a machine.”
The hands-on training center built outside the Ditch Witch facility features a drill and several obstacles to represent a real jobsite. Mike Anderson, general manager of the Ditch Witch California Region, works with operators to identify underground utilities using damage prevention methods with electronics and vacuum excavators and practice applying the equipment in a safe environment.
“In the utility construction business, no two jobs are alike. Understanding the equipment and potential jobsite challenges is imperative,” said Robirds. “We’re seeing better prepared employees going into the field since working with Mike Anderson and his team on this more comprehensive training.”
Longstanding partnership offers guidance and support
“Our partnership with the Ditch Witch organization has helped the company stay ahead of industry trends and updated on technology advancements,” said Robirds. As new equipment is rolled out, Accu-Bore employees work directly with the dealership representatives to understand new capabilities and determine how it can impact their business.
“Even the feedback I’ve received from our experienced operators has been great. After spending a day with the Ditch Witch representatives, guys who have been in the industry for more than 20 years return excited to show me what they learned and how we’re able to apply it to improve our processes,” said Robirds. “That’s a testament to the relationship we have.”
Robirds and his team are constantly working to stay ahead of the curve. When they implement a new process or new equipment, jobsite support is crucial. After all, having the right equipment is important, but knowing how to use it effectively is essential.
For more information on the Ditch Witch Certified Training Program, click here.