Associate editor Lisa Schroeder dropped by the International School of Well Drilling.

Students learn in the classroom, shop and field with ISWD’s work-simulated atmosphere.

Classes are limited to 12 students to ensure each receives individual attention.
As most drilling contractors can attest, it’s hard to find good help these days. Many times, you’ll hire a helper only to have him leave for lunch and not return, or not show up the next morning after just one day’s work. With an industry-wide turnover rate of 300 percent at the helper level and the high costs of training, finding the right people for your well drilling business can be challenging.

Now there is a solution to the problem — the International School of Well Drilling (ISWD). Just one year old, the school, founded in May 2002, offers a four-week intensive course in well drilling and focuses on producing well drillers’ helpers and technicians. Students at ISWD are immersed in a job-simulated environment where they are exposed to the field very quickly. Located in sunny Tampa, Fla., the school is well situated for its task at hand. Equipped with a classroom building, shop facilities and an outdoor lab setting (complete with two rigs), the school runs year-round.

The program is open to anyone 18 years old or older with a high school diploma, GED or equivalent work experience. Classes are kept intentionally small, capped at 12 enrollees, to guarantee students get individual attention. During the course of study that includes both classroom and lab instruction, students at the school get experience in drill rig safety, use and maintenance for both rotary and cable-tool, in welding, in pump installation and service and even come away with a Class B CDL.

Education director Tony Guest provides some instruction during the field aspect of the mud school.

Rigorous Curriculum

The school emphasizes learning something in the classroom and going out and demonstrating it in the shop or field. Taught and tested in both theoretical and practical applications, the students are placed in situations much like those they would encounter on the job and are evaluated accordingly. “They have to go out there,” explains director of admissions John Herrick, “and get into all the different situations and scenarios that Tony Guest will give them — like on the job. It’s a work-simulated atmosphere.”

The school’s curriculum was created by the school’s education director Anthony Guest. “Being a contractor himself, Tony had put together the curriculum for everything,” Herrick adds.

“When we first started the school, it was just an empty building that the owner and director at the time had leased,” Guest recalls how the curriculum development began. “So when I first started, I showed up the first day for work, there was no furniture or computer. With a plastic chair that I used as a desk, I sat on the floor for the first week.” After that it slowly started to come together. “It took about three months,” he reveals, “to develop a beginner’s curriculum, which is what we started with first — Well Drilling 101.”

During that time, Guest, a third-generation water well driller, did research and gathered information from the National Ground Water Library and various books to put together a well drilling curriculum. Meanwhile, the school began to acquire operational necessities — furniture, equipment, a computer and so on.

He discusses his approach to developing the course of study for the school: “What they wanted was to take the average guy coming off the street who had never worked at all in the well drilling field and get him ready in four weeks to be able to go to work at an entry level position and be a help and have some knowledge. So that’s what I did. What they originally asked of me was to produce drillers. And I said, ‘You couldn’t teach somebody to become a driller in a four-week course.’ We decided that helpers and pump technicians were the way to go.”

Guest continues, explaining the curriculum’s evolution during the creation process. He stresses how important it was to create a well-rounded course of study, citing as an example that instead of focusing solely on rotary drilling, the curriculum also needed to cover cable-tooling as well so the students could be exposed to the value of both.

When asked to describe what a graduate will have learned at the school, Herrick recounts, “The student takes away a working knowledge of the field. They touch on mechanics, rotary and cable tool. As far as the rotary drilling, they’ll get into mud, air, reverse air; they’ll get into the insulation of pumps, metal fabrication, basically what a driller would need to know to get out into the workforce.”

A student participates in the mud school.

Attending School

To gain admission to the school, a student must pass an entrance exam and complete an interview regarding program requirements as well as be able to read orders and do simple calculations. Importantly, the applicant also needs to be physically able to perform in an entry-level drilling position.

Students must invest in themselves to attend school. Tuition runs a few thousand dollars, and only those individuals who want to get into the industry will put up the effort, time and money to go through the program.

If the student qualifies, financial aid is available through an independent agency. Another option is a tuition reimbursement program that the school calls a contract-partner relationship. As Herrick explains it, “Some of the contractors who are interested in some of our students will sign a contract to reimburse some of the tuition.” A great retention tool, tuition reimbursement is valid as long as the individual is employed by the company, and the arrangements can be made before or after the student completes the program.

Although the school does not provide housing, it accommodates the students by supplying them with housing options upon request. Special arrangements have been made with some local hotels; in one instance, the rate is $26 a night for double occupancy for the month, which equates to $13 a person. A list of realtors also is made available.

Then, after students complete the program, ISWD does what it can to help them find employment. While the school cannot guarantee placement, it is very important to the staff that the students find work.

While there are a few other well drilling schools and courses, many of them are two-year programs. One of the many advantages ISWD offers is that after an intense four weeks, a student is ready to enter the job market. For the students, many of whom are looking to change careers, this is very appealing. For contractors looking to hire, they’ll get an employee who has, as Guest puts it, “the knowledge they need to assist their companies.”

In Part II, appearing in next month’s issue, we’ll take a look at the inspiration for the school as well as the many ways in which it’s expanding.

The International School of Well Drilling is located in Tampa, Fla. You can contact the school at 866-983-9855 or visit on-line at