The International School of Well Drilling moves ahead.

Note: Part 1 of this article appeared in National Driller’s May 2003 issue, which may be accessed in the magazine’s online archives at www.drilleronline.com. It looks at the curriculum of the International School of Well Drilling and what students must do to participate in the program.

Just over one year ago, the International School of Well Drilling (ISWD) entered the water well drilling industry. Since its inception, it has seen remarkable success in a relatively short period of time and continues to make great strides, overcoming challenges and identifying areas for growth.

Those involved in running the school factor significantly in its success. A small staff that accomplishes a great deal, they demonstrate a willingness to go above and beyond to ensure the students graduate from the program and find work afterwards. Anthony Guest and John Herrick, with guidance from Stuart Anderson of Diversified Well Drilling, Tampa, Fla., run the day-to-day operations; Ed Finch maintains an advisory role for the school’s administration, providing strategic guidance when needed. According to John Herrick, the school’s director of admissions and marketing, “Tony is the engine that runs the car,” he says of the school’s education director.

A dedicated instructor, Guest shares some of the challenges and joys he finds in teaching. “Every student has his own needs, and you’ve got to accommodate them somehow or help them out somehow. I had a student in one class who couldn’t read [due to severe dyslexia]. I had two students in another class that were Vietnamese, two brothers, and one could barely speak English.” Yet, despite the students’ individual challenges, they were successful at the school. The student with severe dyslexia passed with a 94 percentage, thanks to his hard work and the individual attention and support from Guest.

Back when he was in the family business, Guest recalls telling his father, “I kind of would like to go back to school and become a teacher and teach kids. And wouldn’t you know, two years down the road, I get a call to a well drilling school, which I thought would never, ever come about. But it was kind of neat how the two worked together.”

Describing what he likes best about instructing, Guest explains, “What I like most about it,” says Guest, a third-generation well driller himself, “is being able — after working over 25 years in the trade — to turn around and share that with other people and watching them, some of them changing their lifestyles as well as trying to find a different career. It’s rewarding beyond explanation.”

Like Guest, John Herrick is passionate about what he’s doing at the school. “I love it. See, the reason I do this is that I love helping people,” Herrick shares. “Most of the people who come to us are underemployed or unemployed, and they need a chance. And I feel it gives them a chance to go make something better of themselves, and that’s probably the best feeling in the world about doing this job.” Herrick is a transplant to Florida, originally from New Jersey where he worked in the school industry at Lincoln Technical Institute. He was recruited for the position, hunted down as he says, and considers his current role as his opportunity to grow the school.

Students reap the benefits at this drilling school, where the curriculum evolves to best meet their needs.

Find a Need and Fill It!

The International School of Well Drilling is the brainchild of Ed Finch of Diversified Well Drilling, Tampa, Fla., who first came up with the idea as a way to combat rapid turnover and the high expense of training. Finch describes what inspired him to start the school: “The motivation was that we figured out that the limiting factor for our drilling business was people. It’s kind of a clich?o say that people are your most valuable assets, it’s of course true but you’ve got to take it a little further than that. In our case, the really critical people were the field people — the drillers and the helpers. The company’s experience with attracting and retaining those people was not good.”

Finch remembers that after he bought the company he asked what could be done about the retention problem. When the answer came back, ‘Not much, because there’s just not a lot of people’, his response was that they needed to figure out another solution. His conclusion: “We will start a school. We’ll train them ourselves, grow them ourselves.”

After doing some research and realizing this was an industry-wide problem, “I believed we could train a bunch of folks,” Finch continues, “and that would give us some and give a lot of other people some, too, and there could really be a business out of it.”

Before starting the school and developing the curriculum, he sought expertise in what needed to be done to start a trade school, employing the help of Bill Philips, who had built a large school organization himself and consulted on what needed to be done. Anderson and Phillips figured out how to build the school, and Finch backed them.

Challenges and Benefits

Creating a school is challenging for many reasons. “It’s not easy to put together an independent school. You have to meet several objectives from the state, and sometimes I felt like we were one of those circus shows, jumping through the rings,” Guest reveals.

But the biggest challenge facing the school right now is getting the word out there and informing the industry about what the school offers.

Guest emphasizes the quality of the students and ultimately the workers the school produces. “One of the deepest challenges I found as a contractor was you hire somebody and you found out that either they knew nothing at all or that they knew too much. It’s sometimes harder to take somebody that’s been in the drilling field because they’re already set in their ways and they probably aren’t the way that you would like them. What we’re trying to do is develop a student they can mold to fit to their company,” explains Guest. “We’re giving them a little bit of knowledge so they’re not going to hurt themselves or somebody else, so they have an idea what’s going on. That’s what I would like the contractors out there to know. We’re giving them the knowledge they need to help assist their companies.”

“It is a need that is throughout the country — the whole industry needs it — and what we’re doing in addition to teaching definable skills, how to drill; to weld; etc., is teaching our graduates how to work,” relates Finch. “That means not only just how to drill but come to work a few minutes early, don’t come a few minutes late — the basic how-to-work principles. I think basic work skills as much as the actual technical skills will help these folks get a job and help the school be successful.”

Herrick states one of the biggest benefits the school offers companies is that it trains current or prospective employees, saving the company the time and financial investment of conducting the training itself.

“There are a lot of hidden costs people don’t think about when they hire somebody,” Finch further explains. “They are things like untrained personnel often cause accidents, and they get hurt or they hurt somebody else and then you’ve got lost time for the person who’s hurt. You’ve got workman’s comp and maybe damage to equipment. In addition, when you train somebody, you’ve got lost supervisory time. All those things happen the first month or so, and then the guy quits. So you start over — on average three times before you get one person. With those economics, it’s costing a lot of money.”

Finch estimates the cost of training one employee with all the hidden costs he mentions reaches around $50,000. He stresses that the advantage of using the school is that you get people who invest in themselves with time, money and effort. He also considers the school’s tuition reimbursement program the ideal retention tool for contractors hiring graduates from the school. Emphasizing that the student is committed to the industry given the effort he has made to get involved by going through the school, forgoing income for a month and paying tuition upfront, he points out that the employer not only receives a quality employee but also one who is likely to stay for awhile. Finch asserts, “The guy who hires him has the opportunity, the perfect retention tool, by saying, ‘OK, you’ve signed up to pay this money back over time. You’ve got a salary, you’ve got a loan … If you stay with me, I’ll make the payments for you as long as you stay.”

“You don’t even have to invest much,” he continues, “you just have to invest in them while they’re there. If it doesn’t pan out, and they quit after a month, you’re just out $100. So it might cost you over three years the cost of tuition. But it doesn’t cost you anything if the guy doesn’t stay. So it’s really a win/win for everybody. I would just stress that we think we have a really good system here that the industry can utilize to get new people in, get them trained and encourage them to stay in the business by this retention tool.”

Companies like Baroid Drilling Fluids conduct seminars at ISWD, like this mud school the students are attending.

Growing the School

According to Herrick, the school will evolve with the needs of the students as well as the industry. He reiterates the school’s maxim — that they strive to find a need and fill it. Guest explains the evolution of the curriculum, describing how it is adjusted as needed to educate the students in what they need to know. He cites as an example what they encountered with commercial driver licensing (CDL). When asked how the CDL aspect entered the curriculum, Guest recalls, “It came into place after the first class. We took the first class down to take the CDL [test], and everybody failed. We realized that we had to help them out and start teaching it. Now we spend three-quarters of the day well drilling, and then the rest of the day is spent preparing for the CDL. So we had to adjust our curriculum to start teaching the students here in the yard, or they weren’t going to be ready to enter the field. If you can’t drive, then you’re not much good to anybody.”

“Something else we’re going to add,” Herrick includes, “is a 40-hour OSHA-regulated safety course. Most of these people have to get it, so we’re going to add it.”

Development is not restricted to the current programs or location, however. Finch outlines the current plans for expanding the school and its programs. “If we’re able to continue to make it a success, we’d like to have this school do several different things. We’ll develop longer programs of 90 days to six months to give somebody an even higher level starting position in pay and ability,” he reveals. “We will develop programs that do continuing education for the industry itself, and we’ll be able to provide education on a short-term basis to organizations that are already in the business like geologists or water management districts or geology classes. A college could send its kids over for three or four days for some practical geology lessons. We expect to expand the curriculum and target it to the various needs that we see in the whole industry, and we believe that this can be replicated throughout the country, that the need is nationwide and that we can put schools throughout the country and make this work.”

Already, the school is seeing the beginning of great growth. “We are currently doing training classes for Swiftmud, the Southwest Florida Water Management District,” Herrick remarks. This is a coup for the school, as the water management districts run the water business in Florida. Another is that the school recently contracted with the U.S. Navy. The Navy, which trains well drillers and has its own school, will be sending its teachers to ISWD for instruction. Florida Health Department’s water regulators are to attend training at the school as well.

Manufacturing companies also are showing interest in ISWD and supporting its cause. Baroid Industrial Drilling Products, Goulds Pumps and Franklin Electric all conduct daylong seminars at the school as part of the regular curriculum.

“Right now we have more job orders from all over the country than we do students. We’ve had a call from Iowa to send us four or five. They want people to go to work,” Herrick exclaims. The school, in Herrick’s words, is “growing leaps and bounds.”

“We’ve got some good people, we’ve got a good program and we’re getting tremendous, enthusiastic response to what we’re doing,” reveals Finch. “We’re getting inquiries from all over the country, in fact from out of the country. And if we execute from here on out, I think we have something that is really going to help the drilling industry.”

“We’re all excited about the different avenues the school is taking,” Guest shares.

With all the school can offer the industry and with the passion and dedication with which those involved approach their mission, the International School of Well Drilling certainly is a class act, and one bound to succeed.

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 www.welldrillingschool.com.