In a recent interview with The Driller, Dave Bowers shared his inspiring journey from an accidental entry into the drilling industry to his current role as an instructor at the International Union of Operating Engineers. His story is a testament to the power of determination, learning, and the importance of workforce development in the drilling industry.

From Cabinet Maker to Drilling Instructor

Dave Bowers’ entry into the drilling industry was unexpected. "I got into this industry really by accident," Bowers recalled. After being laid off from his job as a cabinet maker, he was offered a position in drilling. Despite the low pay, the opportunity for extensive work hours attracted him, and he soon found himself immersed in the industry. His transition from a drilling helper to an operator was marked by a sudden responsibility when his colleague had to leave due to a family emergency. 

"He got a phone call that his father-in-law had passed away, and he comes back to the rig and says, “Hey, I gotta go, my father-in-law passed away.” I said, “OK, well, who were they sending out?” He gave me a name, and I go, “Well, he doesn't drill,” and he goes, “No, you do!” And he left. So that was my entry into drilling,” Bowers recounted, highlighting how he was thrust into the role of a driller.

A Turning Point in Professional Growth

Bowers' journey took a significant turn when he joined Rock and Soil, a company led by Dominic Sazi. "He approached everything with respect," Bowers said, emphasizing the impact of Sazi’s mentorship on his career. This experience underscored the importance of continuous learning and respect in professional development. While Bowers eventually left the company, he still talks about his past leader and mentor regularly, emphasizing the impact of a good leader on apprentices and highly experienced operators alike. 

Establishing and Expanding the Apprenticeship Program

Recognizing the critical need for skilled workers in the drilling industry, Dave Bowers was instrumental in establishing an apprenticeship program designed to provide comprehensive training and development. "Our job is to provide value to the company as well as provide a good career path for the worker," Bowers explained. The program aims to balance training with professional workmanship, ensuring that companies receive well-trained, dedicated workers. Bowers emphasized, "Part of that was for us to provide the signatory contractors the value they were paying for."

The apprenticeship program was born out of necessity. As the industry faced rising costs and the need for high-quality work, there was a demand for well-trained professionals who could meet these challenges. Bowers and his team at the Local 150 of the IUOE worked diligently to create a program that not only trained workers but also offered a clear path for career advancement. "The value to the company is training and quality professional workmanship that's harder to come by outside of this system," Bowers noted. This structured approach ensures that apprentices are not just performing jobs but are on a career trajectory that benefits both them and their employers.

The program is meticulously designed with milestones and benchmarks to guide apprentices through their training. "When a new apprentice comes in, they make 50% of what a journey worker driller makes. But there are milestones for them to meet," Bowers explained. These milestones are linked to pay raises and skill development, providing apprentices with clear goals and the support needed to achieve them. "We provide a lot of stuff at no cost, but they have to schedule stuff, they have to come in and show up, and they have to put the effort in to get the skills to meet each milestone," he added.

Looking to the future, Bowers has ambitious plans for expanding the Local 150 program. Discussions are underway to establish additional apprenticeship programs on the East Coast and in Houston, broadening the reach of this valuable training initiative. "We're hoping in the next little while for both of those programs to be up and running," Bowers said. He envisions a future where multiple viable training programs exist, providing talented professionals to the industry. "If my name is never mentioned again, I'm OK with that. What I want is the industry to move forward," Bowers concluded. This dedication to workforce development ensures that the drilling industry will continue to thrive, supported by a new generation of skilled and motivated workers.

Transforming Jobs into Careers

Dave Bowers is deeply committed to transforming drilling jobs into sustainable careers, emphasizing the critical role of clearly defined career paths in increasing worker retention. "It's not all about money to start with," Bowers pointed out, highlighting the necessity for long-term benefits and growth opportunities. According to Bowers, providing a structured pathway with clear milestones and support is essential for keeping workers engaged and motivated in the drilling industry.

The Local 150 apprenticeship program Bowers helped establish is a testament to this philosophy. This system ensures that apprentices have a clear understanding of what they need to achieve to progress in their careers. By laying out these milestones and providing the necessary training and support, the program helps workers visualize a long-term career in the industry rather than just a job.

Research supports Bowers' approach, indicating that employees with clearly defined career paths are significantly more likely to stay with their employers. A study by LinkedIn found that 94% of employees say that they would stay at a company longer if it invested in their career development. This statistic underscores the importance of Bowers' emphasis on career development and the structured nature of the apprenticeship program. "Our job requires so much more hard work, so much more ability and integrity to do it properly. There has to be a value for that," Bowers noted, emphasizing the need for a well-trained and motivated workforce.

In addition to skill development, the program also includes mechanisms to ensure continuous improvement and accountability. Apprentices are required to meet specific milestones and demonstrate proficiency in various drilling techniques. "They have to come in on Saturdays or rain days when they're off and do the training," Bowers said, explaining the commitment required from the apprentices. This rigorous approach not only equips workers with the necessary skills but also instills a strong work ethic and sense of responsibility.

By providing a clear path to career advancement and ensuring continuous support and development, the Local 150 apprenticeship program is successfully transforming drilling jobs into fulfilling, long-term careers. This approach not only benefits the workers but also contributes to the overall growth and sustainability of the drilling industry.

Addressing Industry Challenges

Dave Bowers is also keenly aware of the challenges the drilling industry faces in retaining workers and competing with other sectors. He emphasizes the necessity of understanding and adapting to the needs of younger generations to ensure the industry’s growth. "Too often I hear all this, 'these kids don't wanna work, these kids don't—' That's not true. What they want is value for their work," Bowers stated, highlighting a common misconception among older generations.

Bowers pointed out that younger workers, particularly from Gen Z, are eager to work but seek more than just a paycheck. They want to understand the purpose behind their tasks and desire a work-life balance that previous generations might not have prioritized. By explaining the reasons behind tasks and acknowledging their efforts, companies can create an environment where young workers feel valued and respected.

Studies support Bowers' insights. Research from Deloitte indicates that 43% of Millennials and Gen Z plan to stay longer at companies where they feel appreciated and can see career growth. This statistic underscores the importance of creating a respectful and supportive work environment. Bowers shared, "If you lay everything out at the beginning, at least there's a target. There's something down the road they're looking at that says, 'Okay, I need to do this, this and this because I want to get here.'"

The Local 150 of the IUOE apprenticeship program that Bowers helped develop reflects this understanding, offering a structured pathway for career advancement. 

Engaging the Younger Generation

Dave Bowers is a strong advocate for engaging Gen Z in the drilling industry, emphasizing the importance of understanding their unique needs and providing meaningful career paths. "They want some things different than what we got," Bowers observed, noting that young workers today seek value for their work and a clear understanding of their roles. This generation, unlike previous ones, prioritizes purpose and work-life balance over merely earning a paycheck.

Bowers shared that effectively engaging Gen Z starts with listening to their perspectives and adapting the work environment to meet their expectations. "These kids have been raised to ask the question, 'Why?' It's not a hard question," he said, stressing the need for clear communication and explanation. According to a study by the Wall Street Journal, Over half of Gen Zs (55%) and millennials (54%) say they research a brand's environmental impact and policies before accepting a job from them, reflecting their broader values beyond just the job itself.

Apprenticeship programs are a powerful tool in attracting and retaining Gen Z workers. The Local 150 program is designed with clearly defined milestones and continuous support, providing a structured pathway for career advancement. 

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 62% of apprentices retain employment with the company that trained them, highlighting the loyalty fostered through these initiatives. Bowers added, "We provide a lot of stuff at no cost, but they have to schedule stuff, they have to come in and show up, and they have to put the effort in to get the skills to meet each milestone." This model of shared responsibility ensures that apprentices are both accountable and supported, which is key to their engagement and retention.

Furthermore, Bowers pointed out that Gen Z workers are eager to contribute meaningfully and be recognized for their efforts. "They want value for their work. They want some buy-in that, 'Hey, I'll give you my labor as long as I understand what's coming back to me,'" he said. Research from Gallup shows that 60% of Gen Z workers say they are open to new job opportunities, indicating a need for employers to engage and retain this talent pool actively.

By creating apprenticeship programs that align with the values and expectations of Gen Z, the drilling industry can attract and retain the next generation of skilled workers. Bowers emphasized that the future of the industry depends on its ability to adapt and meet the evolving needs of its workforce. "We need to get the tide to rise so that the drilling companies are profitable enough to buy the new equipment they need," he concluded. Engaging Gen Z effectively will ensure a robust and sustainable future for the drilling industry.

Looking to the Future

Looking ahead, Bowers hopes to expand the Local 150 apprenticeship program and ensure its lasting impact. "What I want is the industry to move forward," he said, expressing his desire for future leaders to continue improving the program. Plans are underway to establish additional programs on the East Coast and in Houston, expanding the reach of this valuable training initiative.

In conclusion, Dave Bowers' journey and efforts in workforce development highlight the importance of continuous learning, respect, and strategic planning in the drilling industry. His dedication to transforming jobs into careers and engaging the younger generation is paving the way for a more skilled and motivated workforce, ensuring the industry's growth and sustainability.