One topic that has been much discussed in the construction market in general – and tunneling specifically – has been the need to recruit, train and retain employees in all facets of the industry, including contracting, engineering, and within the ranks of the owner agencies.
In our annual roundtable discussion, which we held this year during the North American Tunneling Conference in Los Angeles, we invited representatives from across the industry to discuss education and training. The discussion lasted about two hours, and could have gone on for at least twice that long. The participants were passionate about the subject and the consensus was that we were falling short as an industry in recruiting new talent to this vibrant and challenging market.
Among the key takeaways for me personally were:
- Research dollars are a key element to tunneling programs at the university level. Universities are driven by research and hire professors that are able to draw in funded research. Without a dedicated stream of research money, professors with a background in tunneling and underground construction will remain in short supply. The trickle-down effect is that fewer students are exposed to tunneling and underground construction, and are drawn toward other fields.
- Owner education is particularly important. An educated, experienced owner is paramount to the success of a project, yet in some instances they don’t have the resources to get training or the industry background to know what training is available. Suggestions to help owners gain experience included the establishment of an owner’s forum to share experience and conference scholarships for owner representatives.
- The tunneling training program being administered by the Northwest Laborers-Employers Training Trust Fund is a fantastic opportunity for anyone to learn about mechanized tunneling – not just union members. The facility (the Satsop nuclear power plant that was abandoned before construction was completed) is located near Seattle and has contractor-donated equipment where people can learn about TBM operation, segment erection, ventilation, locomotives and track, and other aspects of tunneling in a setting that mimics an actual construction site.
- Increased dialogue among all parties promotes understanding and awareness. It was interesting to hear some discussion about prequalification criteria in that in some cases a contractor may not have complete control over what is being required – an equipment operator for a project that has a collective bargaining agreement, for example. Oftentimes we are focused on our own tasks and priorities that we don’t take the time to discuss – and by extension understand – all the different viewpoints and concerns. (This also happens to be true at my own office!)
Please take a look at the roundtable beginning on page 12. It is always a challenge trying to condense all the information that is presented, but I find that there is a lot of excellent commentary that comes out as a result of the discussion. We welcome any comments or suggestions you may have to improve education within the marketplace because, just like with an individual business, every industry needs a succession plan.