As a skilled trade that takes pride in our chosen vocation, it is vastly important that we ensure the welfare and industry professional standards that we take pride in. As our infrastructure becomes increasingly more congested and projects updating our nation’s neglected pipelines begin to let — we are going to find ourselves surrounded by more and more competition that is ill equipped to meet the needs of our customers, as well as our communities at large.
The demand of a better infrastructure will clash with a rush of new pipeline suppliers, putting municipalities and infrastructure-supporting companies in a quagmire. The reason that this will happen is because there is virtually no set standard or certification industrywide, aside from the gas pipeline contractor’s operator qualification program. So, once the high-paying, prevailing wage, guaranteed work begins to let, prospectors will seize the opportunity to invest their retirement into a directional boring machine.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that this is necessarily a bad thing. Competition allows our customers the opportunity to choose based on a price point, safety and professionalism, as well as quality. I see this as a great opportunity within our industry, an opportunity that we can choose to self-direct our companies to a uniform set of standards and operating procedures that force the wave of new contractors to comply, or cause the contractor to stifle any chance of competing within the marketplace.
I know that I am going to get some pushback on this, but the reasoning behind this is simple and extensive. Do you think what we do is extensive, complicated, skilled? What happens if you make a mistake? Is our job dangerous? Do we have a duty as contractors to ensure public wellbeing and safety?
When a mistake is made within our industry, our industry as a whole is judged by that. Every industry is critiqued by its lowest common denominator. So if the newest unskilled contractors are hitting pipelines, slicing through fiber and causing power outages, we as industry professionals are judged by that. If you don’t think so, what comes to mind when I mention lawyers, bankers or used car sales people? Don’t worry I am a recovering banker, so I can do that.
How about safety? I know there are several contractors that don’t have any OSHA recordables because they simply don’t record them. There are companies that knowingly do not drug test, or they warn their team members when a “random” drug test is coming up because they are afraid they couldn’t get anyone to staff their jobs. They let team members drive or fuse pipe without the proper certifications.
So, what do I see as a remedy to helping curb some of this? I envision an organization such as the Great Lakes Trenchless Association partnering with contractors; engineers; safety professionals; utility, telecommunications and locating professionals; state one-call centers and pipeline companies in order to come up with basic general operating procedures, safety training and professional standards. Contractors can choose to operate in concert or contrary to the guidelines, but if they choose not to comply customers would in turn know who these contractors are.
As industries evolve, new information is gathered and better practices are learned. It is our duty as leaders within our profession to maintain practices that protect our team members, customers and communities, as well as the reputation of our industry.