The BDA Apprenticeship Scheme – Doing Our Bit to Address Skills Shortages

August 7, 2018

It is pretty much accepted now that there is a growing and chronic shortage of skilled people in the construction sector and especially in the many specialist contractor sectors such as drilling. Whilst there is a real energy and motivation to see this position change throughout the construction industry, with many initiatives in place such as apprenticeship schemes, the problem still exists in attracting people on to such formal training programmes.

Mindful of these issues, the British Drilling Association (BDA) developed its apprenticeship scheme specifically to provide not only the much-needed formal training within the drilling sector, but also to attract candidates to the scheme by making it appealing and above all real-world relevant.

Historically, when a company employed a driller, or ‘second man’ as they used to be known, it was the job of the Lead Driller to train him or her, primarily if not exclusively, using hands-on methods. Nothing wrong with this approach, but the training was only ever going to be as good as that acquired by the Lead Driller and assumes the Lead Driller was always employing what might be considered as best practice. Additionally, the ‘second man’ was only ever going to build experience and knowledge based on the work of the Lead Driller, which could be considered limited depending on the type and nature of projects which they have worked on. Two ‘hands-on’ trained drillers from different companies could well be competent and considered skilled but may not share the same skills to be considered equally trained.

Of course, the situation has changed enormously over the years, evolving to more formalised assessments and further on the establishment of the BDA Drillers Apprenticeship Scheme. In fact, the BDA scheme has expanded its content enormously to include the many aspects of the drilling industry such as Health and Safety, Geology, other drilling disciplines, as well as modern changes in industry. It is also now a mix of both classroom and on-site training, with the BDA’s main committee working group constantly updating and reviewing its content.

There are also many industry concerns about skills and abilities, which not only need including, but are also subject to constant change as best practice, technology and health and safety legislation changes, which must be addressed through the evolution of the BDA apprenticeship scheme. Being always ‘up-to-date’ and formalised gives a relatively new entrant into the industry a good start to a future career, knowing they are equipped with the very latest methodology and insight to the drilling sector as well as a transferrable qualification at the end with value.

These days, few companies would question the importance of formalised training like the BDA’s apprenticeship scheme, but there have been past issues with uptake, typically course-related but also with funding and occasionally interest. The BDA scheme does require a significant time commitment by companies, as it involves releasing employees to study and participate in the on-site and classroom content. There is support available; those companies ‘in scope’, which pay the CITB levy, are eligible for a £4000 reduction in the cost of the apprenticeship as well as approximately £1000 towards the attendance and NVQ assessment. However, regardless of support, most accept that the return on investment is repaid many times over through upskilling, loyalty and technical competence. Almost all of those who attend courses are also very positive about how the course has developed too.

More still needs and can be done regarding then scheme; greater financial support to companies and individuals is required and the course has to keep being developed and updated as new innovative techniques emerge and of course in response to changes in legislation.

Recent feedback from two of the BDA Apprenticeship’s scheme’s modules (“Drilling and Grouting” – 3 days and “Anchoring” – 2 days) highlight its popularity and content with overwhelmingly positive comments right down to its applicability to real-world applications. These two recent modules are actually the last of the modules being delivered to the 2016 batch of apprentices and they will now be recording drilling experience to allow the completion of their level 2 NVQ in Land Drilling as Lead Drillers.

For those unware, the BDA Apprenticeship Scheme is an 18-month course designed to take a company employee, who is beginning his drilling career, through to the award of the National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) in Land Drilling, level 2, as a Lead Driller. It combines formal off-the-job training and supervised on-the-job training at employer level, followed by an NVQ assessment in a discipline of the employers’ choice. All components of the training have been intensively identified and documented so as to provide, for the first time in the land drilling industry, full exposure on a nationally agreed basis to all the knowledge and skills that a Lead Driller should possess. The Scheme is open to all land drilling sectors and industry enterprises.

The modules delivered primarily over the first 18 months of the 2-year apprenticeship are as follow:

  • Induction (including Employment 1-day Rights & Responsibilities)
  • Health, Safety & Environment 3 days
  • Geology 2 days
  • Drilling Applications & Methods 3 days
  • Site Management 1 day
  • Drilling & Grouting 3 days
  • Ground Investigation 4 days
  • Anchoring 2 days
  • Geothermal Drilling 1 day

The benefits are wide ranging for both the apprentice and the company and include:

  • Quality training to agreed national, industry and BDA standards
  • Off-the-job Trainers will be industry experts in their field
  • Fully documented training records satisfying legal requirements e.g. HASWA
  • Apprentice eligible for CSCS Trainee card following Health & Safety test
  • Costs can be offset by grants to eligible companies
  • Retention of employees by offering nationally recognised training / qualification
  • Recruitment of new employees seeking career path
  • Training of apprentices on correct and safe operations
  • Apprentices working towards a set goal – NVQ qualification
  • Apprentice input into company practices following formalised training (bringing back their experience and knowledge gained)
  • Exposure of apprentices to range of drilling activity not available within their company

Training is often cited as unaffordable by some companies, but in an increasingly competitive environment, with both a shortage of skilled people, concerns over the retention of good staff and the promise of plentiful work ahead, can you afford not to train, and the BDA apprenticeship scheme ticks many boxes!

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