For much of the drilling industry, continuing education is nothing more than a requirement that is more dreaded than anticipated and more boring than fun. It’s not that drillers don’t value learning and it’s not that they don’t want to expand their skillset; it’s that the most traditional approaches to continuing education aren’t captivating enough and that transferring classroom lectures into field practices is easier said than done.
Field demonstrations are a great alternative that many associations are embracing and National Driller recently attended one put on by the Indiana Ground Water Association (IGWA) in Indianapolis. The Fall Field Day continuing education event featured a water well drilling demonstration and pump installation, presented to a group of 158 groundwater professionals who found it very worthwhile, according to Troy Alexander, past president of IGWA.
“We are a hands-on group,” he says. “We like to see you drill a hole to produce some water. ... We like to see dirt moving. You can show me this stuff in a classroom all day long. Show me how it’s actually put in place while we’re out there in the field. Field days are the only way to do that.”
Continuing education as a requirement is still fairly new to the Indiana water well drilling and pump installing community. The licensing was made official in 2011 by the state’s Department of Natural Resources and the corresponding rules for continuing education are important for the industry to take seriously, says Jennifer Bonner, executive director of IGWA. She was responsible for coordinating what she calls the association’s largest field day, which marks her first time planning an event for the group.
“We’re professionals and we want to be viewed as professional,” she says. “Everybody — doctors, lawyers, accountants — they all have continuing education. Things are constantly changing and it’s good to keep up on that.”
Bonner says industry associations are, and should be, the masters of educational events because they exist to serve the profession. That doesn’t mean making the experience worthwhile for attendees is easy though. As with anything, a lot of careful planning and preparation are necessary. Bonner recommends that associations incorporate these steps into the process to ensure success:
- Allow more than enough time for planning to leave room for setbacks.
- Don’t limit invites to members. Reaching out to non-members can increase attendance and ultimately increase interest in the association.
- Don’t leave all of the work to one person. Divide it up for increased efficiency.
- Once tasks are distributed, don’t get so wrapped up in your own role that you don’t know what the others are up to. Communicate for the sake of coordination and organization.
- Double check the little things beforehand, like name tag spellings and paperwork count.
- Make sure attendees can actually see the demonstration and do so comfortably. For longer presentations, seating is a must. For larger crowds, elevated options like bleachers are ideal.
- A smart move for funding is to collaborate with sponsors.
Bonner says that seeking out sponsors is extremely valuable for a field day event and, for her, was the most important step taken in the planning process. The sponsorship of Laibe Corporation and Preferred Pump played a huge role in keeping costs down, not only for the association, but the attendees.
“The sponsors are the ones who take that extra bulk where we don’t have to charge $250 to come to an event. We can charge $60 or $90 to come to an event,” she says. “Without sponsors, a day like this we’d have to charge such a large amount of money, people wouldn’t want to take a day off work and, on top of it, pay a couple hundred dollars to come see it.”
In addition to funding, Bonner says the sponsors were extremely helpful in donating the equipment, employees and labor necessary to carry out the actual demonstrations.
The collaboration isn’t just beneficial to the continuing education efforts though. It’s also good for the sponsors themselves, who essentially have a captive audience to their equipment. Bonner says drillers and pump installers are able to make more informed decisions with regard to equipment purchases once they’ve actually seen the tools in action.
“I think they enjoy it because these guys are getting to see the actual equipment doing the job instead of when they go to a show, the rigs are all set there and it’s nice and everything, but they don’t get to see the different parts working that they’re curious about if they don’t have a rig like that,” she says.
According to Jim Hopkins, president, CEO and co-owner of Laibe Corporation, sponsoring events like these and supporting the advancement of drilling professionals are great opportunities to bring the industry together. “I think one of the most important parts is, whether you’re Versa-Drill or another rig manufacturer or another supplier, anything we do we have to promote the industry,” he says. “So we have to break competitive lines, make sure that everybody understands the proper way to do things, and that starts with manufacturers and suppliers.”
The existence of drilling equipment manufacturers rests on the existence of groundwater and drillers. At a time when the availability of both of those resources is arguably less than ideal, Hopkins says spreading awareness is especially vital.
“The industry’s shrinking and what we need to do as manufacturers is promote growing the industry,” he says. “Groundwater is becoming extinct and we need to bring young people in here, show them how to do it properly, make sure they follow all the guidelines and make sure they do the job properly.”
While a lot of the drilling industry attends continuing events because it’s a requirement and because they want to expand their knowledge to better serve their customers, Alexander says their motive for going shouldn’t stop there.
“The number one thing is protect our groundwater source,” he says. “So I’d like to see more people come to the events for that reason, so they can learn the correct way to install a pitless adapter. Those are direct conduits to the groundwater source. So if it’s done incorrectly, you’re contaminating our source. It’s good for these guys to see, ‘OK, I’ve never seen that before. Maybe I should change.’”
Speaking of change, it’s never too late for it, Alexander says. That’s a part of the reason why he recommends that drillers and pump installers of all experience levels take continuing education seriously and make it a point to come to events like the IGWA Fall Field Day.
“I believe everybody [should attend], from the guy that’s been doing it 40 years to the guy that starts today. ... Just because you’ve got tons of experience doesn’t mean you ever did it right.”
Valerie King is associate editor of National Driller.