Underground Construction - June 2017 - 30
D I R E C T I O N A L
D R I L L I N G
By Jeff Griffin Senior Editor
Addresses Workforce, Locates, Bidding
The panel, from left to right: Andy Blokker, Michael Thomas, Aaron Graff, Ron Halderman, Robert Carpenter
A panel of directional drilling contractors held a wide-ranging discussion of opportunities and issues
facing the horizontal directional
drilling (HDD) industry during the
annual HDD Roundtable at the
2017 UCT Show in Fort Worth TX.
Panelists were Andy Blokker,
vice president of operations and
chief operator officer of Avertex
Utility Solutions Inc., Amaranth,
Ontario; Aaron Graff, president
and CEO of Dakota Utility Contractors, Ennis, TX; and Michael
N. Thomas, president of Alltech
Directional Drilling Inc., Happy
The roundtable was moderated
by Ron Halderman, P.W., director
of HDD for the Mears Group, and
Robert Carpenter, editor-in-chief
of Underground Construction magazine. An audience of approximately 80 asked questions and offered
comments during discussions.
Among the topics covered were:
* Finding and retaining good employees
* Problems with locating existing
* Contracts and the bidding
* The need for a "voice" to
represent the HDD industry
Hiring, retaining workers
Hiring quality employees was a
major topic of discussion at the
2016 roundtable, and again in
2017. Panelists and audience participants agreed that finding and
retaining good employees is a continuing problem.
"We have employees who have
been with us 10 to 15 years,"
said Aaron Graff. "But there's
something different about young
people entering the job market
today. They start work and after
a little training expect to advance
Mike Thomas said Alltech has
been fortunate to hire and keep
"To retain good employees," he
said, "it's necessary to create and
maintain a good work environment, and that includes providing
the best equipment for them to
use. One thing we do to make it
worthwhile working for us is paying monthly bonuses. We expect
employees to do the best job they
can and reward them accordingly."
Andy Blokker said Avertex prefers
to hire young farm hands.
"They are accustomed to hard
work, have been around equipment, and have a good work ethic,"
he explained. "We train our people
to work the way that we want
things done. Then they work their
way up the ladder. It's worked out
very well for us."
However, Blokker agreed that
younger workers today do expect
to advance faster than employees
hired several years ago.
"After learning the basics," he
said, "some seem to think they immediately should be made an HDD
Problems with locates
All of the panelists said one of the
most serious issues they face is
getting proper locating and marking for the positions of existing
utilities. A system is in place to
make locates before construction
begins. The consensus of the panel
was that completing this essential
step to prevent accidental utility
hits should not be the responsibility of contractors.
Panelists said the One-Call system - the backbone of marking existing utilities on job sites - is not
"One-Call performance is not
good and continues to get worse,"
said Thomas. "One-Call locates
often are made late, or don't show
up at all. We find many locates
that are made by One-Call are inaccurate. One-Call is understaffed
and overworked, often leaving us
to make locates. Much of Alltech's
current work is in the Dallas/Fort
Worth metroplex of Texas."
Graff said when One-Call is late
or doesn't make locates within the
prescribed time frame, the result is
downtime for contractors.
"We're prepared for that with
a person who does locates for
us - that's all he does," Graff continued. "The area where we work
- North Texas - is very big, and
many locate people are poorly
trained and there's a big turnover
Left to right: Aaron Graff, Dakota Utility Contractors, Michael N. Thomas, Alltech Directional Drilling, Andy Blokker, Avertex Utility Solutions, Ron Halderman, Mears Group,
Robert Carpenter, Underground Construction/UCT
Underground Construction June 2017