Building a skilled and diverse workforce

John Chick, chair of the UK’s Federation of Piling Specialists (FPS) discusses how training in the drilling industry can help to create a skilled and diverse workforce.
Building a skilled and diverse workforce Building a skilled and diverse workforce Building a skilled and diverse workforce Building a skilled and diverse workforce Building a skilled and diverse workforce

Training is the foundation of a skilled and proficient workforce in the construction and piling industry

The construction industry is one of the few remaining industrial sectors which, for the most part, is open to entry without any formal qualifications. It is also an industry where dedication, talent and perseverance can see individuals rise to the very top. This opportunity should be a compelling incentive for aspiring professionals to join the industry. However, to excel in this challenging field, comprehensive and attractive training programmes are required, and we must explore some of the key points and concerns that need to be considered.

Attractiveness of training

Training in the drilling industry varies in type, often requiring extra-curricular efforts from individuals. To encourage and sustain participation, training programmes must be designed to be appealing, with clearly visible long-term benefits and career growth opportunities, that come with acquiring specialised skills.

Moreover, the training process should incorporate real-world practical experiences where possible, including hands-on learning to maintain engagement and interest, by demonstrating the relevance of the classroom work.

The importance of trainers and assessors

Effective training requires skilled and qualified trainers, and it should be recognised that not everyone with experience in the field is suited to be a trainer. Teaching and mentoring require a distinct set of skills beyond having a wealth of technical expertise. As such, trainers should undergo their own training to develop the ability to impart knowledge effectively and inspire the next generation of drilling professionals.

As well as trainers, assessment is essential. Assessors are experienced professionals, with the ability to review the standard achieved. Many assessors are voluntary and there is a shortage in our industry which can derail many training outcomes.

Tailored training programmes

Every person has unique career aspirations. Training in the piling and wider construction sector should be carefully selected, based on the trainee's ultimate goals and interests too. Apprenticeships and apprenticeship degrees have been gaining popularity among employers, offering comprehensive skill development as the candidate works and earns.

Apprenticeships may be slightly more expensive in the long run for the employer, but they are proving extremely efficient and beneficial in producing motivated and competent employees, who are not laden with student debt. This, together with the relationships formed during the employment period of the apprenticeship, fosters loyalty, which offsets some of the additional training cost.

The FPS Apprenticeship, for example, has emerged as an instrumental pathway for aspiring piling operatives. However, there are challenges related to assessors and college access/placement and it is how we address these issues that will ensure a steady supply of skilled and qualified professionals to meet our industry demands.

Emphasising digital skills and safety

In the modern construction industry, digital skills are paramount for efficiency and safety, and training programmes must incorporate digital literacy to keep professionals up-to-date with evolving technologies. There is much talk about the role that artificial intelligence (AI) may play in construction, and unique digital skills will be required to use and interpret it.

Additionally, instilling safety awareness and safe behavioural traits from the outset is essential to ensure a secure and productive work environment.

Addressing pay-scale disincentives

One significant challenge for trainees is often a reduced pay-scale during training. Despite working as fully-fledged site operatives, trainees can often earn less than their experienced counterparts, employed for a similar task role. This practice is illogical and dispiriting for potential trainees to stay the course. Companies should address pay-scale disparities to make training a more rewarding experience, and not see trainees as less worthy of a full-hourly rate when they do the same job and have the same responsibilities as the fully trained operative, purely because they are still a trainee for another skill level. This single change would also help with employee retention.

Structured and recorded training

To maintain quality and accountability, training programmes have to be structured and logged. This discipline ensures that the skills acquired during training are effectively tracked and recognised within the industry. It also provides a feedback loop to the trainee, where they can see their progress and skills mount over time and provide proof of how far the employee has reached.

Supporting this approach, the ‘FPS Yellow Card for Trainee Rig Operators' has been designed to give a trainee rig operator proof that they have the basic level of safety and plant training, to enable them to sit in the seat on a site, under varying forms of supervision, and handle any challenges regarding competence.

Establishing clear career paths

Not content with the traditional progression from tools to site office to boardroom, the modern construction industry aspirants demand diverse and faster career paths. Establishing clear career advancement pathways will attract more young entrants and promote a diverse and dynamic workforce.

Balancing training funding

Training organisations and colleges require appropriate funding to offer high-quality training. Striking a balance between easy funding and limited availability is crucial to prevent dilution of training standards or a shortage of skilled professionals.

Providing pastoral care

Trainees for any role not only need technical guidance but also pastoral care to thrive, particularly during their early years of work and training. Companies and institutions should ensure that trainees have access to mentors or coaches who provide support, motivation, and guidance throughout their professional journey.

The FPS' Early Careers Group is a good example of this approach, ensuring those in their career journey have access to help, advice, guidance as well as encouraging individuals to feel part of a community with somewhere to turn to for support.


Training is the foundation of a skilled and proficient workforce in the construction and piling industry. By addressing the points mentioned above, and continuously improving training programmes, the industry can attract and retain talented individuals, ensuring a prosperous and sustainable future.

Emphasising personalised training, digital skills, safety, and comprehensive career paths will create a dynamic and diverse workforce, ready to tackle the challenges of the drilling industry in the 21st century and beyond.

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