Filling the Pipeline

In many cases, the best way to find high-quality CCTV inspection operators is to identify people with the right personal attributes and train them yourself

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Filling a CCTV inspection operator’s position can be a real challenge. It’s not as if you can call the local labor pool and have one sent over. It is a specialized job with relatively few positions and almost no one already in the pipeline of available talent.


The easiest way to fill an immediate vacancy is to find an experienced operator, but that may not be the best way to go. The experience and training operators have received at other companies or agencies may be inadequate. Bad habits acquired elsewhere can be difficult to change and may be incompatible with your program. Unfortunately, by the time these weaknesses surface, it may be too late.


As a contractor, I have found myself in dire need of an inspection operator on several occasions. Out of frantic need, I have hired the first operator to come along. This has rarely worked out. My next option has been to train someone quickly and put him or her into the operator chair as soon as possible. This, too, can have negative consequences.


Training from scratch

So, how do municipal managers keep from being put in this position? How can you anticipate your needs? What typically works best is simple: plan ahead. By being proactive, you can make sure there is always a quality trainee being prepared to fill future needs.


The best way to find ideal CCTV operators is to grow them from scratch, before you actually need them. By doing it this way, you have time to find the attributes in a candidate that are most favorable for you and your organization. By always keeping at least one trainee in the pipeline, you have the assurance that you are covered for any future contingencies without a huge ongoing training cost.


The single most important step is to hire the right person by using a thorough screening process. There are three skills sets to consider:

Innate skills. These are attributes a person is born with: personal IQ, aptitude, leadership and organizational abilities. A person with these attributes most likely can learn and perform the job adequately.


Learned skills. These are skills people have developed through schooling or other means. The most important is computer knowledge. Trainees must have a solid understanding of file management, word processors and spreadsheets. Learning these skills on the job is not practical. Mastering the required computer skills takes a long time and should never be done on the clock. Other learned skills include mechanical and electrical knowledge.


Trained skills. These are the skills you will teach candidates to develop them into top-notch operators. It is important that trainees are teachable. They must be able to learn how to operate the software, troubleshoot the equipment and become certified in NASSCO/PACP as soon as possible.


A training plan

After screening candidates carefully, you can start training. One of the worst things you can do to trainees is rush them into the operator chair. Once they are operating, they become so focused on the inspections themselves that they are unable to take in the other functions around them.


Therefore, time trainees spend in a support role on the back of the truck is very valuable. This is where trainees can follow the inspection process on the rear monitor while observing the mechanical functions of the equipment. From there, they can observe the inspection environments, and understand the reactions from traffic, pedestrians and even children. Valuable lessons like these can be missed if trainees are not allowed to learn from the outside in.


A comprehensive training program is critical. You need to assess each person’s readiness and the issues their training needs to address. More than once I have sent new employees to NASSCO/ PACP training prematurely, with poor results. When trainees with insufficient exposure to the industry are thrown into a training class with completely new terminology and information, their retention levels are low.


Conversely, if they have had time to take in the industry and have been exposed to the terminologies before taking the class, their retention rates are much higher. Begin by exposing trainees to the industry as a whole. There are wonderful online resources that will give them valuable information. There are Web sites dedicated to the history of pipe, current rehabilitation practices and many more valuable topics.


Help trainees understand the big picture. Talk about why pipelines are inspected, what the information represents and how it is used. Discuss the data that is collected and why its accuracy is so important.


Take the time to instill in them the value of the position. Explain the importance of collection systems to our civilization and survival. Make clear that our infrastructure has far surpassed its design life and that CCTV operators sit on the forefront of its rehabilitation. Impart to them the importance of the task.


Remember that it is far easier to teach someone the right way the first time. Take full advantage of a new employee’s attention and eagerness to learn. Spend more than enough time with them to make sure they grasp everything that is important.


Handling equipment

Don’t forget to teach trainees the value of equipment. An operator who misuses or abuses equipment can cost you thousands of dollars and cause numerous lost days. Be sure to instill the importance of caring for equipment and maintaining it properly. Help them understand the potential costs of damaged equipment in time lost on the job and delays waiting for replacement parts.


By all means, teach trainees how to carry out an effective preventive maintenance program. Instruct them how to perform minor repairs. Let them leisurely practice configuring different equipment setups. Allow them to become intimately familiar with each piece of equipment before they ever work on a job site. If an equipment maintenance class is available in your area, have them attend it.

Remember that there is no magic timetable for training. Each employee learns at a different pace. The point is to give trainees enough time to absorb the environment around them before they are too busy to learn it properly. This is not rocket science, but it may be overwhelming to trainees at first.


The next step

When a trainee is ready, it’s time to expose him or her to the operator’s chair. A good start is to let them run a line or two each day under the lead operator’s supervision. This hands-on experience will help them understand the process and will elevate their knowledge absorption rate.


During this process, set time aside for trainees to play with the software without an actual inspection taking place. Let them fill out headers, enter observations and print out reports. Let them go through all the menus and functions to gain a thorough understanding of the systems involved.


Develop a written aptitude test to assess each trainee’s knowledge and retention. Include technical information, maintenance issues, equipment configuration, traffic control and general industry knowledge. Incorporate some role-playing scenarios that will help them begin the critical-thinking challenges they will encounter in the field.


When you’re satisfied with a trainee’s progress, schedule a NASSCO/ PACP class. Let the trainee page through a PACP notebook to begin the familiarization process.


Keep the pipeline full

By following these procedures, you will be assured of having a qualified CCTV inspection operator making his or her way through your trainee pipeline at all times. When the need presents itself, you will be able to seamlessly meld a new operator into your inspection program without ever missing a beat.


About the Author

Jim Aanderud is owner of Innerline Engineering, a video pipeline inspection company based in Corona, Calif.


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