Trenchless Education – Human Resource Requirements and Roadmap for Future Technical Education

With the explosive urban growth in India, requirements of trenchless are growing. Recent origin, however, is the difficulty as till now structured education and training is unavailable in the nation. The need today is to train and develop professionals in this field who could function as resource persons in guiding and motivating students for joining the sector. This article aims to provide reader appropriate input for becoming more effective in teaching, research and service activities in trenchless technology so that the faculty members become more flexible in responding to industry needs and student aspirations and priorities.

Introduction


In the run up to the Common Wealth Games, Delhi, India, witnessed 22 road cave-ins in one monsoon month. Many of such cave-ins occurred due to collapse of road surfaces triggered by the soil movement in cavities created during inappropriate trenchless excavation operations. Trenchless technology, for the uninitiated, is the family of applied construction techniques that are used to develop, maintain, and manage continuous utilities buried below the surface without complete excavation. These techniques are designed to assist the engineer in creating or managing a cavity below the surface without large scale surface destructions and still these cave-ins occurred.

Trenchless Background


Underground space is vital for the functioning of our modern society. This is where the arteries of our cities and communities are located – with pipelines for utilities and waste disposal, cables and communication networks, and underground transport routes. And the underground space has still more potential to offer. Shifting production facilities, cultural and service centres into the underground space can make room for an ecologically intact environment at the surface.

Constructing under the surface or subsurface construction is what the trenchless technology techniques are all about. In order to enhance the quality of life without spoiling the environment, optimum use of underground spaces is natural and therefore the importance of trenchless technology.

Definition-wise, trenchless refers to a situation where one is talking about fewer trenches while executing subsurface works. In other words one is working below the ground surface without exposing the complete network.

Subsurface networks are one of the major necessity of the modern day living. The development process entails several hazards and their containment is what the need of the day. Further any malfunctioning utility network will create situations where the natural or created habitat may be rendered completely useless, a non-performing habitat. It again is necessary that they be rehabilitated or renewed. Both these again require actions full of hazards.

Subsurface construction activities, therefore, not only cover new developmental activities but also address the requirements of subsurface network rehabilitation as well replacements.

In support of these activities projects also require information about subsurface strata and existing structures. Such information is gathered through Subsurface Utility Engineering (SUE) process and geotechnical investigations.

Any construction professional engaged in the hands-on works will always need to develop the basic understanding about what lies beneath and the skills to develop subsurface solutions in such a way that the new one can coexist with the existing without destroying them or the environment.

Project Inadequacies


Any inappropriate trenchless project work, in fact is the failure of execution procedure adopted and the inputs used. Unlike any other construction activity sequence, where the complete success of individual activities may not lead to complete project failure, trenchless construction activity sequence warrants a  comparatively flawless compliment of materials, consumables, equipment, and operations crew, and any shortcoming in any of these critical inputs can lead to complete project failure.

Trenchless operations, normally, are remote controlled and, therefore, the requirement of precision in the activities. In addition, as subsurface space can never be isotropic, risks to existing structures and built environment due the improper application or inadequate protection works are extremely high. It is therefore important to develop proficient professionals, who could perform under the expected conditions.

Trenchless Knowledgebase Needs


Before we discuss about the required proficiencies of trenchless professionals, let us look at the extent of requirements and knowledgebase levels in the perspective of today’s industry needs. Briefly, the knowledgebase should be sufficient to create professionals, either sensitized of the technology, or capable of executing projects. Again, the executing professionals would be at three levels, depending upon the project needs and investments. The four levels of trenchless knowledgebase in the order of their increasing role could be as follows:

1.    Trenchless Associates

It is the first level of knowledgebase that sensitizes the construction or engineering professionals sensitized about the working of the sector. This, in fact, is the entry level knowledge-base that must be present with all the construction professionals. It also is the starting level for the next knowledgebase levels.

2.    Trenchless Planners

Second knowledge level pertains to knowledgebase that can empower individuals to plan the project on a holistic basis. This level is of the use of planners who, in addition to basic technology sensitization, also require the global perspective so that they can successfully plan a subsurface project.

3.    Trenchless Designers

The next level of knowledgebase pertains to analytical abilities empowering professionals to conduct design calculations, material and equipment sizing, consumable selections, and logistical planning. This level is of use of project owners who desire to conduct engineering of the projects. In addition, the project executing agencies like contracting companies, equipment manufacturers and suppliers, and consumable manufacturers also require such professionals for successful actions in their respective line of operations.

4.    Trenchless Executors

Fourth level of knowledgebase covers the entire sector specific knowledge and assists the industry in physically executing and concluding the trenchless projects.

Combination of these four types of proficiencies would be able to fill the competency gaps that are being experienced in the trenchless industry today.

Knowledge Gaps


Fact of life is that since these competencies are almost absent in our home-grown engineering graduates and diplomas, most the major project execution agencies are compelled to engage international professionals or un/under-qualified professionals available locally. This substitution, in turn, is making the project expensive due to higher service costs in case of expatriate professional. In case of deployment of un/under-qualified individuals for critical operations it is enhancing the risk levels substantially. Till recently, even the mechanism to evaluate the competency of the so-called trenchless professional, were under-developed and the maximum check generally employed was the verification of the copies of project execution certificates making the process subjective. Even today many employers are forced to follow the same process due to paucity of tested and certified professionals.

It is heartening to mention that from this year that project owners have initiated the use of IndSTT established competency standards to evaluate the trenchless professionals prior to their deployment at the project sites. This is a welcome sign, but in face of national requirements it is very little, and more efforts are required.

Current Practices of Trenchless Professional Development


Testing and certification of the proficiencies is only possible if such candidates are actually available. It is, therefore, imperative that we develop professionals with these proficiencies, so that adequate national trenchless capacities are created to meet the industry requirements.

Currently in India, trenchless proficiencies are cultivated through non-conventional modes, which are mostly On-the-Job Training efforts. These training efforts lack proper curriculum and program structure since individuals trainees get exposed to selected elements necessary for that specific project work alone. Knowledge gained, thus, may not be much relevant to projects comprising of different elements, though the certificate may not say so.

Way Ahead


The way ahead is to provide structured training to professionals for the identified competency levels. Once a formal and structured exposure to the global picture is provided, individuals could move ahead to specialization of their choice. Looking at the level structure, training for the first two levels could be provided to all the professional students undergoing degree or diploma programs. Generally the candidates passing out from engineering colleges and polytechnics are taught the preliminaries of the branch specific engineering so that they are able to perform as a team member of the first line of defence in the branch specific operations. With the basic knowledge of trenchless techniques and their respective applicability the candidate would be able to perform in the similar manner as his contemporaries of other branches.

The next two levels of training, which would be of specialization, should be imparted to practicing engineering professionals or candidates going for masters/post-graduation degree programs. This would also need ample exposure of trenchless equipment and actual working processes. The training, therefore, needs to be imparted through an intelligent mix of classroom training and relevant project work undertaken through industry exposures. It is only this way that the nation could build necessary capabilities in trenchless technology sector.

Importance of Trenchless


Importance of the sector could be understood from few basic facts about the nation building process that we are currently undertaking. Nation today is in the midst of some of the major and ambitious infrastructure projects in various sectors like roads and highways, urban infrastructure, oil and gas transmission and distribution networks and pollution control. In all these sectors a substantial amount of work, to be executed, is below the ground surface. The alternatives available to handle such projects are either conventional cut-and-cover methods or trenchless. Trenchless, due to its state-art-nature, provides opportunities to safeguard the existing structures and appurtenances at one hand and allows a faster project completion at other. Its remote operation capabilities allow project execution at difficult locations that conventional construction would not permit or would be extremely expensive compared to trenchless option.

In addition, with the existing urban infrastructure aging rapidly, even the possibility of finding space for open cut-and-cover operations may not be available in the near future and majority of works, in that case would have to be executed through trenchless. It is, therefore, imperative that as the trainers of the future engineers, we must inculcate the trenchless knowledge in our students and future construction engineers so that they are able to respond to the call of duty in due course.

Trenchless Education and Current Engineering Programs


While discussing the industry or national need one must not miss the point of employment or the employability quotient of our passing out students. Candidates trained on conventional or archaic technology may not be useful for the current and future industry as obsolescence sets in quite quickly.

Analysis of present scenario in Indian engineering education sector tells us the same. So what must be done? We need to marry the trenchless knowledge demand and our current educational programs so that the passing out candidates get these proficiencies and are useful for the industry. Employability of our students naturally will grow. The point is more easily said than done since we also need to have faculty members for these engineering colleges and polytechnics to have such teaching information. It would be appropriate to mention here that IndSTT has compiled and created a comprehensive set of books and technical training material that can be used for training of the trainers, as well as the trainees.

Many a times, I am faced with the argument that the academic calendars, followed by the universities and engineering institutions, are quite comprehensive and no additional time to accommodate trenchless topics is available. Recently we have found a way ahead with Rajiv Gandhi Proudyogiki Vishwavidyalaya, Bhopal, which is planning to create a semester-long internship section in its engineering programs. This six-month duration could be used for imparting trenchless education to the students. Alternatively, one can explore the post passing out training to students. Such training could be provided to desirous pass out candidates at the institution level. Testing and certification of such trained candidates could be done by IndSTT. As far as faculty is concerned dedicated training programs for ToT could be conducted in association with IndSTT.

Trenchless Proficiencies


Having established the need for action, we are now identifying the training scope and topic coverage so that the necessary proficiencies are developed in the trainees. Extent of knowledge impartation would depend upon the educational level of learner. These proficiencies could be categorized into following four sections:

1.    Introductory Proficiencies

As discussed the initial portion of training programs must create the foundations and this would mean providing a global picture of various elements to the learner. Such introductory program coverage of trenchless stream should have the following sections:

1.    Basics of Trenchless Technology;
2.    Introduction to Subsurface Asset Development through Trenchless Technology;
3.    Introduction to Subsurface Asset Administration through Trenchless Technology;
4.    Introduction to Subsurface Asset Termination through Trenchless Technology
5.    Waste Management in Trenchless Technology applications.

The above list covers the primary information about new installation techniques, rehabilitation techniques and replacement techniques. It is observed that, this basic information when available, with project engineers enable them to perform better on their works which may or may not be linked with trenchless per se.

2.    Project Planning & Execution Proficiencies

Upon cultivating the basic sensitization, the next range of topics aimed at cultivation of project execution proficiencies within the professionals under training includes the following:

1.    Understanding of Trenchless Technology Selection Criteria;
2.    Understanding of Trenchless Technology Scope of Works;
3.    Trenchless Technology Standard Operating Capabilities;
4.    Understanding of Trenchless Technology Risk Mitigation Measures;
5.    Understanding of Pipeline Condition Assessment Processes
6.    Understanding of Trenchless Pipeline Rehabilitation Technology
7.    Understanding of Safety Issues in Subsurface Networks Development & Management
8.    Understanding of Standard Method Statements for Trenchless Projects
9.    Understanding of Site Investigations for Trenchless Projects
10.    Understanding of Trenchless Project Supervision
11.    Understanding of Trenchless Project Management

As the names explain, for project execution, one must be capable to select appropriate technology, must be aware about the scope of works involved, and able to perform on all other topics as listed above.

3.    Contracting Proficiencies

Next level of proficiency ladder looks at developing contracting capabilities in the candidates. Contracts, similar to conventional construction or mechanical erection projects, must cover the following:

1.    Standard General Conditions for Construction Contracts Employing Trenchless Technology
2.    Special Conditions in Construction Contracts Employing Trenchless Technology;
3.    Schedule of Rates for Construction Contracts Employing Trenchless Technology
4.    Model Consultancy Contracts for Trenchless Technology.
5.    Third Party Inspection Processes;
6.    Trenchless Arbitral Procedures and Dispute Resolution Systems
7.    Trenchless specifications and codes for various trenchless techniques suiting Indian conditions

4.    Advanced Proficiencies

All the above proficiencies pertain to the initiation levels (Level 1 & 2) as discussed above. These should be covered, depending upon the requirements and subject to available resources, in the degree or diploma levels. Beyond these, for level 3 & 4, which address technique specific training, where trenchless equipment and working procedures need to be intermixed with the training process, the training can become extremely expensive, should the equipment and consumables are deployed specifically for the training. It would be more appropriate that such training be imparted through a mix of classroom teaching coupled with On-the-Job Training. The topics, that could be covered may include:

1.    Good Practices Guidelines for various techniques;
2.    Technique Operation Guidelines for various techniques;
3.    Buried Pipe Design and construction techniques;
4.    Trenchless Equipment design and selection techniques;
5.    Buried Utility Database Information Development and Management;
6.    Proactive Buried Utility Network Development and Management;
7.    City & Urban Area Infrastructure Development and Management.

In addition several more topics, as per the specific requirements, could be included in due course. Further, trenchless technology is an ever expanding sector and many more topics or proficiency groups would get generated over time. Similar to other branches of engineering, here also one must be careful to avoid obsolescence in this sector.

Conclusion


With the explosive urban growth in India, requirements of trenchless are growing. Recent origin, however, is the difficulty as till now structured education and training is unavailable in the nation. The need today is to train and develop professionals in this field. Underground space is vital for the functioning of our modern society. This is where the arteries of our cities and communities are located – with pipelines for utilities and waste disposal, cables and communication networks, and underground transport routes. Constructing under the surface or subsurface construction is what the trenchless technology techniques are all about. Any inappropriate trenchless project work, in fact is the failure of execution procedure adopted and the inputs used. Based on the extent of requirements there are four knowledgebase levels in the perspective of today’s industry needs and we need to cultivate professionals for all the four knowledgebase levels. Combination of these four types of proficiencies would be able to fill the competency gaps that are being experienced in the trenchless industry today. Currently trenchless proficiencies are cultivated through non-conventional modes, which are mostly On-the-Job Training efforts. We however need to provide structured training to professionals. Trenchless sector provides ample opportunities for growth both to faculty as well as students and therefore must be considered as a viable option. There could be certain difficulties in initiating a stand-alone trenchless program but one semester programs with some trenchless elective could be considered as the sector is growing rapidly and offers ample employment opportunities.
IndSTT has developed the complete initiation and advanced training modules that can assist the efforts, if desired.

Prof. Niranjan Swarup is executive director of the Indian Society for Trenchless Technology, New Delhi. He can be reached at niranjan.swarup@indstt.org/indstt@indstt.com.

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