Business Leader spoke to Sam Mercer, Operations Director at plant and machinery hire firm Plantforce about the company’s burgeoning partnership with Weston College at its new Construction Training Centre.
Can you give us a brief overview of Plantforce?
Plantforce is a leading plant machinery hire company based in Weston-super-Mare with national coverage and strategic depots in Cornwall, Exeter and the Midlands, supported by satellite depots in Warrington and Inverness.
Having just been ranked number 75 in the Sunday Times top 100 companies in the UK, we are very successful on major projects around the UK such as Hinkley Point C and HS2.
What’s the thinking behind the partnership with Weston College?
Plantforce has always been at the forefront of technology and innovation; we feel that a fleet of top grade machinery combined with highly-advanced plant operators sets us apart within the construction industry.
With the new Weston College Construction Training Centre only situated a mile down the road, we felt we had to be involved from the start. We already had an established in-house training arm which focused on simulation-based GPS training for our own operators helping meet the new high standards set for the UK’s major tier one projects, but wanted to partner with a training provider who shared our outlook to embrace the future technologies.
The new Ofsted Outstanding Site Ready Programme is a collaboration of Weston College’s training experience, combined with our plant machinery and technology expertise.
The course focuses on taking new and experienced plant operators and building a bespoke profile, supporting them to become a safe and efficient operator. The course consists of an induction, a full medical, including a toxicology report, CITB Site Safety Plus Health and Safety Awareness course, quick hitch and lifting operation training, guidance systems operation training, height and slew restriction training, and efficiency dynamics.
We feel only a collaboration with Weston College gives the expertise needed for such an advanced training program.
What outcomes are you targeting?
We want to be the first partnership in the UK to deliver an advanced simulation-based, technology-focused training program fit for 2020. With HS2 due to start very soon, not only will there be a demand for modern machinery but also for technology-advanced operators, and we feel we will be perfectly placed to deliver the required training at requested numbers.
Technology and innovation are important features of this collaboration – can you tell us more about this?
No longer do engineers use paper drawings and spray paint to mark out a road formation on the ground, or a stick to measure the fuel level in an excavator; it’s all about fuel efficiency and communication systems. The excavators use telematics systems to report on fuel economy, engineers are designing buildings in cloud-based 3D CAD software which is then loaded on to the machine remotely. In the very same way a satnav tells you where to go, the same tech is used to guide an excavator to grade, manage materials and plan work flows.
This is all well and good but nobody has focused on the guy who is driving the machine. Traditionally these guys are aged between 45-65, and through no fault of their own, they have missed the tech revolution and need specialist training programs to bring them up to date on advancements in construction technology.
This is something that has not been done anywhere in the UK.
How successful is this partnership proving to be?
So far, the courses are proving to be a great addition to the already successful training schedule at Weston College. Currently we run at least one course a week.
What are your long-term ambitions for this initiative and your involvement with the Weston College Construction Training Centre?
The overall plan is to develop the training, further invest into trending technology and work forward with major projects to establish a one-stop training location that covers all bases from inductions, medicals and site-specific technology.