BDA Conference – Education, Training and Tackling the Skills Shortage in Drilling’ – Reviewed

May 19, 2023

The recent British Drilling Association (BDA) conference “Education, Training and Tackling the Skills Shortage in Drilling” was held 11th May 2023, at the National Memorial Arboretum, Staffordshire. It was extremely well received with feedback commenting on its relevancy and high level of speakers and topics.

The event opened with the BDA Chair, Paul McMann, discussing some of the BDA’s initiatives to tackle the issue, with a focus on its Apprenticeship, Trailblazer, BDA Audit, and Standards, and how these are supporting the sector providing routes for training and upskilling the workforce. Paul noted that although a driller may need more than 30 skills cards including safety passes, ancillary equipment competency cards and other safety related training – none of these improve their drilling skills and pleaded for the audience not to confuse obligatory safety training with examining and upskilling in the drilling process.

Paul’s presentation was followed by the CITB’s Engagement Advisor for Coventry & Warwickshire, Phil Warwick, who gave a brief overview of the work of the CITB, and the funding available from short duration grants, long- and short-period qualification grants through to apprenticeship grants and its skills and training fund. Phil explained how these grants can be accessed, as well as explaining who they are most appropriate for and what it is doing for the future to help support recruitment. The CITB’s plans for net zero were also outlined and what construction standards and qualifications need to develop to meet net zero commitments.

Patrick Bowles, Industry Scheme Manager of the Mineral Products Qualifications Council (MPQC) spoke on the topic of “Driller Development and why the BDA Audit Matters”. Patrick began his presentation with an overview of the MPQC before explaining its regulated and non-regulated Awards schemes and its ‘Assessment of Quality in the Sector’, including the Plant Operator Competence Scheme, Drilling and Blasting Scheme and Land Drilling.

Why the MPQC was chosen by the land drilling industry to review the land drilling qualifications was discussed and how it has worked with the BDA to ensure that qualifications remain relevant to the evolving needs of the sector. The work it has undertaken to support the Accreditation of the BDA’s Audit was also discussed and how it monitors them to ensure they are of the highest standard and demonstrate true competence.

Angus Macgregor, BAM Ritchies, took over the baton looking at “Attracting and Retaining Staff in Land Drilling”. Angus began his presentation with a reading from Hugh Miller’s “The Testimony of the Rocks”, first published in 1857, as a way of explaining that the stories we tell, and the language we use is important in overcoming the challenges of the skills shortage. He offered that every step of our journey to a sustainable future begins with a hole in the ground. He continued stating that drilling is not boring! By telling this story the people who may wish to work in our nourishing and rewarding profession can understand the opportunities we offer as an industry.

As an industry that has provided Angus himself with 25 years of uninterrupted and rewarding employment, and one that has kept BAM Ritchies trading successfully for 60 years, Angus stressed there was plenty of opportunity in the sector and concluded by encouraging us all to tell our story wherever and whenever we can, and especially connecting with young people in schools. He added we must be prepared to tell our story differently from old, use language carefully and with consideration, and don’t keep what we do a secret.

Ground Forum’s Steve Hadley spoke about its Ground Forum Mentoring Scheme representatives and how it is helping to encourage the next generation of geotechnical engineers to enter the sector and how its Early Careers Group is motivating young professionals and helping with retention.

Specifically, after outlining what Ground Forum is and what it does, Steve, spoke about how it works with Associations and lobbies government on their behalf. Why GFUMP was formed was discussed and what it is doing to encourage more people from minority groups into the sector. Case studies were used to highlight how its scheme has helped individuals and what its future plans are before plugging the Ground Forum Podcast “Breaking Ground and the many topics it has and is covering.

Davide Pegoraro, Area Sales Manager of Comacchio, presented “Look! no hands!” and took delegates through the latest developments in equipment handling and automated services on drilling equipment. From the growing trends in the drilling market, such as EV drilling and green technology, through to the increase in automation and connectivity and data analysis, Davide explained how the sector is changing and how it is likely to evolve in the coming years.

Automated rod handling systems were explored, and how they provide different solutions to different applications, and all collectively will help drive site safety and reduce labour need whilst bringing additional benefits such as low carbon emissions.

Neil Houlihan and John Davies, Project RECCE spoke about its programme and how it is challenging employers to think differently about the military veteran talent pool, and to create opportunities for military veterans and service leavers. After an overview of the organisation, how the project can make an impact on the national skills shortage was discussed. Importantly how this available talent pool being quick to learn and possessing the necessary leadership and management skills, as well as being health and safety aware, adaptable and resilient, and good communicators with high military values and standards, would be an asset to any business.

What Project RECCE can offer you was highlighted, and specifically, how it can design and assure a “Military Talent Programme” for your business. How you can make a difference, by signing the armed forces covenant was also promoted.

Neil Gowdy, Drilling Manger Causeway Geotech, spoke about “Cable percussion drilling in the 21st Century – training the next generation of CP drillers”. Neil took attendees through the benefits of cable percussion drilling, such as it being versatile, easily transported and cost effective, and discussed some of the challenges the technique presents, including difficult to source ‘new’ and attracting and retaining drillers. He suggested a pathway to tackle these challenges, speaking about the benefits of the NVQ Level 2 for Lead Drillers.

A questions and answers session concluded the main presentation programme before delegates enjoyed a relaxing networking session with refreshments.

The BDA would also like to take this opportunity to thank all those who supported the event, including delegates, speakers, sponsors, and exhibitors.

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