Weston College Partnership

The shortage of construction plant operators is now well-documented, and it is certainly a situation that the industry needs to urgently address, but in our haste to welcome new entrants are we increasing the risk of serious safety incidents? Picture the scene: a newly qualified driver presents themselves to the guardians of the site gates with their shiny new excavator ticket just the day after they pass, but with virtually no experience to support it. Once they have completed the necessary induction, they could, for instance, be let loose on a 30 tonne excavator on a complex lifting task – and the potential for disaster is obvious. This is not just a hypothetical scenario but one that has already played out amongst individual contractors and plant hirers, and the consequences have been disastrous.

The hirer presently has over 150 machines operating on the Somerset nuclear power station build alone, all of which are running a full suite of GPS machine control systems, and it is essential that drivers are fully conversant with the technology if they are to remain as safe and productive as possible. With the likes of BIM firmly embedded in the supply chain, construction is increasingly undergoing a digital renaissance, and much more needs to be done to ensure that those at the controls are keeping pace.

“Plantforce has embraced Trimble’s solutions in recent years,” explains the company’s Dale Hawkins, “and we’ve heavily invested in making sure our guys can use it, but that’s only part of our programme. This might be the first but we’re confident it won’t be the last, because the plan is to expand to other colleges across the country. Our package is not revenue generating, nor is it about undertaking a series of tasks by rote merely to pass a test. Instead it ensures that operators can do the job that is required of them on site. The Construction Training Centre at Weston College is one of the few facilities of its kind that is accredited with an ‘Outstanding’ OFSTED rating, so partnering with them was a natural choice.”

SITECH, the UK’s premier Trimble construction technology provider, is particularly keen to endorse the initiative. Plantforce recently celebrated 20 years in the plant hire business by revealing two new Kobelco SK210 21 tonne excavators in custom limited edition Plantforce livery, both fitted with the latest Trimble Earthworks semi-automatic machine control, and the two distinctive red on black and white on red branding, machines were on show at the Weston College Construction Training Centre.

“There is currently no training facility in existence that provides operators with training on modern machine control, which is required for Tier 1 projects such as HS2 and Hinkley Point,” explains Sam Mercer, Operations Director at Plantforce. “These training courses will provide the industry with a machine control-ready Trimble qualified workforce, while opening up opportunities for operators to gain access to new projects.”

“There are many additional benefits for operators,” adds Steve Breen, General Manager at SITECH. “They will acquire new skills, helping them to complete projects faster and become more marketable themselves. We’re really excited to support Plantforce in the launch of these new courses, not only to further strengthen our relationship but also to improve the adoption of technology in the industry as a whole.”

“Our involvement in the Weston College and Plantforce initiative allows us to demonstrate just what machine control can do for new entrants to the industry,” continues Steve. “Ultimately, the ambition of the Site Ready Operator course is to improve safety and Trimble technology has huge benefits in terms of safety, with fewer boots on the ground around the excavator, and much greater control over the machinery.”

Learners at the college will be instructed on the very latest Trimble Earthworks system, equipped with a new 9in. touchscreen, quicker sensors and modem for more accurate positioning, and a cloud-based platform that facilitates a much faster transfer of data. With the SITECH supplied technology, there’s less rework, and higher levels of productivity, with fewer machines on site. In fact, SITECH claims an efficiency gain of up to 47 per cent compared to an excavator without Trimble.

Of course, operators will still be required to know the basics of what the machine can do but, with more and more government projects in particular demanding a technology enabled approach, future drivers will need to engage with these new systems, and programmes like Plantforce’s Site Ready initiative allow them to do just that.