‘A good tradesperson is someone who not only does a good job, but is able to put things right when they go wrong’. We can all agree these are wise words which we know many PCA members will have heard in some form over the years too.
This statement, from an old college lecturer, was shared by PCA trainer Neil Salvidge which seems to have stuck with him over the years, particularly when difficult situations or problems arise. It appears, it has got him thinking, ‘what ACTUALLY makes a good tradesperson and/or specialist?’
So, he put pen to paper and gave us an insight into his career as a ‘specialist’ in the industry…but can we really call ourselves specialists …and frankly…what actually makes us impowered to say we are specialists?!? Keep scrolling to read what Neil has to say…
Taking it back a bit – Starting out in the industry
Having worked in the construction industry from leaving school aged 15 in the era of Duran Duran, the Mexico World Cup and the release of the CD album; it is safe to say that experience wise, the time served in the industry and lack of hair these days seem to indicate I’ve been ‘around the block’ (so to say) and then some within the industry. But what makes up the rest of the competencies of being suitably qualified and trained and can I REALLY call myself a “specialist”?!?
Climbing the bendy ladder of experience
My initial years in the industry were under the glorious Youth Training Scheme (YTS) and those of a similar era to myself will have their own views on the scheme. But I found my way into a formal apprenticeship system, day release at the local building college (sadly now a housing development) and three and a half years later, a City & Guilds ‘Basic and Advance Craft in Carpentry and Joinery’ under my belt. Time to get that experience.
The varied nature of our industry, not only the work, but conditions of employment and dealings with the Taxman and the CIS scheme, added a dimension to working far beyond that of a tape measure and mud on site.
Time moves on and opportunities raise their heads. Why are these opportunities coming about? The employer who contracted me to work in Africa for two years said, “we can trust you”. Hearing that certainly made me feel special, but I still would not deem myself a specialist!
Suddenly, NEW Specialist ‘buzz words’ appear!
Time flies when you’re having fun. Ten years into my working career, suddenly gas barriers and geomembranes become new phrases in my vocabulary! Unknowingly if I had been offered 10p for every time I either mentioned, typed, or texted those words I would be a very wealthy individual today!
For all the ‘specialists’ out there, membranes seem to be of phrase of industry along with other related terms such as Site Investigation, Conceptual Site Models, Gas Screening Values, Risk Assessment, Remediation Strategy, Verification… the list goes on and on.
From my early introduction to barriers/membranes, the majority of the required skills were purged from previous training. Having an understanding of build sequence, structural limitations, working to drawings and communication with The Clark of Works (a now endangered species), lessons were learnt…but often by mistake.
So…how has the industry evolved?
However, has much changed from those pioneering days in the ways systems interface with buildings and how the tradespeople installing the membranes must work and adapt? Well…yes! The membranes have evolved, more rigorous site investigation is conducted, more specialist training is available, and the industry has learnt from past failings.
Ten years ago, the NVQ Level 2 for Gas Membrane Installation was introduced to set a standard of expected competency in the installation of membranes. Surely specialists in the sector would like their workforce and skills to be recognised? Wouldn’t they….?!? As one of the initial Assessors in this sector I wasn’t particularly rushed off my feet!
As time moved on…things did get better
2014 saw the publication of the Verification Guidance C735, mentioning the NVQ as a level of competence and suddenly my phone starts ringing: “We’re specialists and we need the NVQ”. OK, what training have you provided your technicians?!”. It seems the Gas Membrane installation doesn’t have the trade appeal like the carpentry courses on offer when I started out, which are still popular today.
The opportunity to learn new skills are predominantly inherited in specialist trades which can be productive to technicians with transferable skills from other sectors, or potentially diluted in the wrong hands.
The RIGHT foundation skills go a long way to calling yourself a specialist!
Can I call myself a specialist with the experiences I have encountered? I would now like to think so, but what I think is very different to what others might think of me. I have been fortunate to receive excellent training from my first engagement within the industry. For myself, being a sub-specialist would be a better term in such a sector with varied specialities within.
When it comes to ground gas, I meet many employers and technicians who I often advise ‘you need to gain the NVQ’. Having to advise on a training route prior to venturing into full assessment is often seen as a bit of a snub against what they are doing. Yet, often some of the most basic questions seems to bring up limited understanding and risk awareness.
Taking the time and cost to train operatives is not to belittle what a company might be doing. It is simply raising the knowledge, skills, and internal talent to a new level! When I return to companies that have previously invested in training the gains are truly rewarding and assurances that my so called ‘stupid’ questions are not so stupid after all.
Get trained – the industry needs you!
Whether you are a developer, contractor, specifier, or verification engineer there is specialist training out there for you and your teams to access. Throughout my career, there is no doubt that the training I have had has enabled not only me to progress in the industry but has complemented the experience I have gained along the way too.
There are many untapped specialists waiting to be unleashed. A legacy must be fulfilled, and the industry must continue to evolve and adapt. The gas membrane sector has certainly achieved that in the past twenty years.
Work also continues to help strengthen specialists such as the PCA’s new Ground Gas Protection Group, with PCA members expertly trained to provide this specialist advice and guidance, and the ongoing development of technical documents and discussion papers to support the sector.
But where is the future going to take us regarding training and specialist groups? Non-specialists might wish to apply…. I did!
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