Created | Updated Aug 12, 2004
I suppose it's because I have so much time on my hands these days, that all these memories come flooding back to me.
As I have mentioned before in earlier Snippets, there was an oil construction site close to my home town where I started my career in the oil business. It was in the early seventies when I first came out of the Royal Navy and started my career in the oil business at that same yard. It was an American owned company and that alone was probably its own downfall as all the profits went back to the share holders in the USA with nothing being put into the firm as regards to future technology. At this time, however, the impression in general was that it was there and was going to remain there for many years to come. Indeed it was the best place for miles around to earn decent wages and, with that, the whole surrounding community flourished.
I joined the firm as a welder, but had to go through their training school to upgrade my limited skills and pass the mandatory welding test before being allowed to work on the site. After three years I was promoted on to the staff as a welding inspector and, after a two year period, I was asked to move up to the welding school as an instructor.
This all seemed ideal to me at that time but little did I know that moving up to the staff meant that I would be paid off and made redundant after only two years. This, however, was not to be my last encounter with the training school as I returned there a further three times as a sub contracted welding instructor over the next fourteen years.
The manager in charge of the school was, to say the least, a company man through and through and could never stand anyone miscalling his company! He was, in fact, born after his time, as he would have been in his element in Victorian Britain.
I appeared to be only person who would stand up to him and be prepared to argue a point. He brought up that subject as I was packing to leave the day I was paid off redundant the first time. The fact that I was not a company man anymore and was, indeed, earning more than the company instructors, really got to him. So he made the best of every opportunity to hound me and call me into his office for a chat.
The training program never changed at all in all the times I worked in the school. In fact the only thing that did change was the calibre of the trainees. The course itself was a gruelling one which took a lot of effort and commitment from the trainees to complete. In fact it was common to lose five from a class of twelve during the first four weeks; this period was classed as the probation period. That was, indeed, the hardest job I ever had to do; To take off a trainee who had really tried his best and worked hard at learning the skills, but just never had it in him. This sad feeling I used to get was overtaken with pride and joy as I saw another trainee make the grade and go down to the site as a welder. Now I say a welder, but the point I always made to these successful trainees was that they had been trained to pass the welding test, not to be welders; that would come after some further experience on the site itself.
During this tough and gruelling twelve week period, the school could get very hot. This, along with the deafening noise and limited movement due to the leathers that they had to wear, caused some trainees to get very frustrated especially if they were concentrating really hard and not achieving the standard. The school itself could be a whole new environment to them as the trainees came from all walks of life and it took longer for some of them to settle in.
When I saw this happen, I would ask the trainee to step outside with me, away from all the noise. Then I would ask him to remove the heavy leathers and then I would point out the tank farm to him, which was about half a mile down the road from the school. I would tell him to walk down to the farm, go round it and come straight back up and come to see me on his return. This always left the trainee looking confused as they left on their merry way down and it was quite common to see them turn and look back several times as they got further away. The walk itself would take them about fifteen to twenty minutes and they always looked more relaxed and content on their return. Then I would set them back in their booth to carry on whatever exercise they were doing at the time. This always worked and every trainee who did that would tell me later during one of our later progress interviews, that it was a turning point of their training. All it ever did was to give the bloke a break; a chance to get out in the fresh air away from all the noise and stress and they always came back with a clear head.
Now the training manager did not approve on this tactic and he took every opportunity to remind me of this. It was not in company policy and so was not in the training program so, in his opinion, it should not be allowed. In fact, he picked the worst time possible to bring the subject up one afternoon while we were shift changing. The school was open twenty four hours at the time and we were working a three-shift system. The office was full of instructors as he came in and started to have a go at me about my trainees going 'walk about' as he called it. I had enough of his moaning about me in public, so I took the opportunity to remind him that, if he checked his own records, he would see that I had the highest success rate out of all the other eleven instructors. My 'walk about' might be unorthodox and not in the training program, but it did work!
While I was away on a different site some years later, I heard that the training school had closed and that the manager was made redundant. I remember thinking at the time that the company never showed any loyalty to the man, but expected it from him.
A few years later I was taken completely by surprise when I was asked to return to the school and take up my old post. Upon my arrival I was even more surprised to see that my old friend and indeed mentor was in charge. We had always got along well together over the years. He taught me a lot about being an instructor, how to motivate the trainees and, best of all, he had no problems at all with my unorthodox ways.