Practical lessons for real-life jobs

Utility services training for operatives and supervisors in the water, gas and electricity industries is proving a success. The key is in the realistic scenarios.

We all know that training is essential and necessary for the continued development of a skilled workforce. In these economically constrained times, however, finding the time and resources to train people is a challenge. Taking teams away from the day job in order to train can seem like a luxury that bosses can ill-afford. In the utility industry though, training is crucial not least to ensure that consistently high safety standards continue to be met.

Overcoming the issue of time spent away from the workplace is a difficult one but it is made easier when the training provided is good quality, well-targeted and efficiently delivered. Training that creates opportunities for learning in scenarios that are as close to reality as possible has the best chance of hitting home.

An individual’s learning style determines how effectively information is committed to memory and acted upon. ‘Learning by doing’ is often the favoured style for practical work involving set processes and procedures.

In order to successfully deliver meaningful training to this type of group, the facilities and style in which the training is delivered must be credible and mimic situations that the trainee is likely to come up against in their line of work.


The Training Centre at Risby, near Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, has been created to offer specialised facilities for utility services training across water, gas and electricity. It is designed to provide training for operatives and supervisors, which exactly meets the requirements of the job.

Mick Wright, training centre manager for Morrison Utility Services, says: “It offers real industry and utility specific experience, which is hard to replicate anywhere else. We work with industry associations to offer courses and a facility that raises competency and confidence.

“We truly believe that this truly unique combination delivers industry-leading skills.”

Among the range of specialist facilities available at The Training Centre is a purpose-built trench support unit. Used for teaching trench support techniques to supervisors and operatives it provides an opportunity to recreate various scenarios relating to ground conditions and the requirements of the job at hand.

Covered in a three-day City and Guilds accredited course, specialist equipment for timber and metal support techniques offers trainees a realistic environment in which to learn the vital elements of trench support, which can quite literally save lives.

The benefits of the Training Centre’s trench support facility have attracted the attention of Essex Fire Service. Trench rescue is a key element of the fire service’s training, and the Risby Centre provides a tailor made facility for this.

The involvement of the Essex Fire Service and its trench rescue expertise has opened up further opportunities for enhanced training to be offered by the Training Centre. Specific to the water sector, work is currently under way to add trench rescue to the programme of courses offered with the involvement and guidance of Essex Fire Service.

Wright continues: “In order to create an experience which is as realistic as possible, the Training Centre has been constructed to simulate a live site. Utility apparatus has been installed to create the appearance of a typical site.

“This enables trainees to not only demonstrate their competency levels but also to show awareness of safe working practices whilst being trained and assessed.”

In addition to trench support, the Training Centre offers a number of courses for water sector operatives including the SHEA Water Passport Scheme, water hygiene and COSHH. These are complemented by street works specific training including New Roads and Street Works Act (NRSWA) for both operatives and supervisors, manual handling of heavy tools and service avoidance, key training which, in the case of NRSWA, provides a licence for employees to work. Early in 2010, the Training Centre will also start providing the NCO (National Construction Operations) Water qualification expanding its remit further.


Developing the workforce of the future has become a priority within the utility services industry. The ageing workforce issue remains and the most effective way of recruiting young people into the industry apart from financial reward, is by promoting continued training as part of a clear, individual development plan with predefined career goals.

This industry needs to develop creative methods for tackling the issue and training is a key factor if these methods are to include apprenticeship schemes, re-training for the long-term unemployed and working with ex-offenders and those on probation.

“As an EU Skills steering group member, we are well placed to offer advice and create courses which focus on the requirements of utility training standards,” says Wright. “As part of Morrison Utility Services, we are fully aware of the difficulty in balancing the demands of contract work with providing skills training to a large workforce.

“Our experiences help us shape the courses we offer to ensure that employees learn the key skills they need in the most efficient way. Our trainers have all worked in the industry and have a sense of what it is like to work in the pressurised environments our operatives face.”

Wright adds: “As a result of this experience they can ensure that every trainee completes a course with the knowledge they will need to apply to real-life situations. This is knowledge that is worth investing in, not just for the demands of the job today but also for tomorrow and the years ahead.”

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