The rise in underground utility projects is good news for contractors across the country. However, whether it be due to fiber build-out or aging infrastructure replacement, this growth requires underground utility contractors to find and employ more horizontal directional drill (HDD) operators. This demand has resulted in a shortage of qualified, skilled and confident operators in the underground construction industry.
To tackle this issue, contractors and equipment manufacturers have developed advanced, comprehensive training programs that prepare novice operators for today’s evolving underground utility jobs. These trainings can occur in-person, online or on the jobsite.
Hands-on training equips novice operators for the future
As an integrated infrastructure solutions provider for the electric power, pipeline and telecommunications industries, Quanta Services recognizes the value skilled HDD operators bring to their underground construction business. Skilled operators help the business stay profitable while also effectively conquer jobs and maintain safety of the entire crew.
While it can be difficult to find experienced and properly trained operators, it’s imperative to their business.
“Directional drilling has an especially sharp learning curve” said Dean Martens, director of training, Quanta Services. “The risks onsite are too great and dangerous to allow operators to begin learning on a job without detailed, prior training.”
To get in front of this issue, Quanta Services employs three full-time instructors to deliver a comprehensive training program to new and novice HDD operators at their 2,300-acre, state-of-the-art training facility in Texas. The campus, Lazy Q Ranch, features a simulated village and power grid, lodging and a cafeteria for students, instructors and guests. The ranch acts as the headquarters for all of Quanta’s trainings and holds some of the best talent in the industry to the strictest safety measures.
The instructors work alongside seasoned HDD experts from the Ditch Witch organization to deliver training focused on drilling best practices, including use of drilling fluids, down-hole tooling and tracking electronics. The program is rooted in safety and encompasses a combination of classroom and hands-on learning. Operators begin the program by first completing the Ditch Witch Certified HDD Training online. All participants can visit the ranch once a year for additional training.
“By the end of the two week-long training, most operators are able to set up and complete a 200- to 300-foot bore without any assistance from the instructors,” says Martens. “In fact, two newly trained operators recently went back to California and successfully completed several bores without any assistance on their first run.”
Partnership drives company growth
In addition to the training at Lazy Q Ranch, Quanta Services has also connected with the many Ditch Witch dealership locations that are in the same city as their companies. This provides increased accessibility for employees at various locations, whether they have a concern or a training that they are looking to participate in.
Martens reports that the feedback from students has been very positive. Having training that is both hands-on and classroom-based has allowed novice and experienced operators to simultaneously learn new skills and perfect them.
“We have worked with the Ditch Witch organization from day one and are grateful to have a strong relationship,” says Martens. “The organization has helped us expand and transform our training program to offer services for all types of drill operators, whether they are completely new to the job or have previous experience. HDD operators are hard to find and expensive, when available. We now see the difference early-investment can make.”
As Quanta Services rapidly expands and continues to seek new opportunities with its customers, training remains a priority. According to Martens, the business has aggressive growth plans – meaning they’ll continue to add new operators to the team.