For Chris Eaton, Managing Director of Geotechnical Developments Ltd, based in Marstom Doles, Warwickshire, UK, ‘It is a win-win situation'. He is talking about the ground investigation and geotechnical consultancy's status as one of the first SMEs to sign up for and train its drillers under the Land Drilling NVQ.
Gaining the NVQ, which was launched by the British Drilling Association in 2000, is now mandatory for a driller to be eligible for the Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) card - a card that is increasingly demanded from contractors as a sign of the reputability and reliability of operatives on site.
Before the NVQ was introduced, land drillers were simply BDA accredited - ‘they did not think much of it', says Eaton. While the NVQ is a properly structured training program that takes place on site and looks at health and safety and best practice, which include areas such as soil description, different drilling techniques for varying ground and site conditions, the ability to log information, and servicing and maintaining expensive equipment. NVQ assessors visit the site and students are expected to keep detailed notes of their progress.
For Eaton, the benefits of training his small team of drillers are clear. He sees a direct link between investing in staff and the success of the business. ‘Every penny the company has invested in staff development, we have got back many times in the form of contracts and savings in, for example, insurance premiums. Our insurers are pleased to see that we have well-structured and formalized training in place. We have also won a number of key contracts with blue chip clients on the basis of the quality of service we provide.' The company's turnover has increased by 16% since 2004.
But it is not all about profit. By gaining qualifications, Eaton argues that staff not only become more efficient when working with highly dangerous equipment, but importantly for the future and image of the industry, they believe they have a structured career, can demand improved salaries and use their skills worldwide.
According to Andy Cassidy, Drilling Co-ordinator at Geotechnical Developments, this clear line of professional progress could well help to attract more individuals to the sector. Having completed his NVQ in summer 2005, he says, ‘Qualifications always help. The NVQ stands as a benchmark in drilling standards, which is apparent for all to see. It gives recognition and self-confidence to the drillers'.
Geotechnical Developments knows only too well the problems encountered with recruitment when there is dearth of young people. Traditionally, the UK drilling industry has taken on workers with a background in mining and heavy engineering, and for much of Geotechnical Developments' existence the company had used sub-contracted drilling services. But when the management team decided to set up an in-house drilling service, they found it difficult as most experienced drillers were ‘retired or running their own businesses. But it is a young man's job', explains Eaton.
The team had to think laterally - so rather than look for individuals with drilling experience, they have, over the last four years, recruited fitters, welders, mechanics and agricultural workers, who had the fundamental skills base of being able to operate machinery, and were used to undertaking hard physical labour outdoors. The Land Drilling NVQ therefore provided a nationally recognised qualification that was ideal for training the new workforce.
However, this commitment to continuous professional development did not start with the NVQ. Since establishing Geotechnical Developments 16 years ago, the company has funded the postgraduate training of at least eight workers. At the moment, two members of staff, both with degrees in geology, are studying for their masters at Nottingham University and moving towards gaining chartered status. Eaton believes such a programme is essential three to five years after graduating to increase each individual's confidence and technical expertise, and in turn ensure that the company employs good engineers, raising standards in the industry overall.
Eaton says, ‘Some other companies do not think it is a good idea because they worry the staff members will go off to someone else once they have completed their studies. My view is if we mentor them properly, they will think a lot more of the company. They need to move on at some point for their own professional development, but they keep in touch with us.
With this policy in mind, two more assistant drillers working at the company are set to move up the ladder by starting the Land Drilling NVQ. Up until now Eaton says the uptake has been slow by other SMEs, but he is certain that as more and more companies and drillers realise that the NVQ and CSCS card are the preferred minimum requirement in the industry, they will jump on board, ‘even if you have 30 year's experience in the industry'. It is an essential means to get rid of any ‘bad habits' picked up along the way.