Benefits of Becoming a Certified HDD Operator

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Benefits of Becoming a Certified HDD Operator

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Since September of 2015, more than 75 operators have completed the Vermeer HDD Circuit training program. This two-week course pairs Vermeer experts with a small group of operators looking to expand their skillset. 

Vermeer HDD Circuit program attendees come from all over the world, with different levels of experience and goals. To make sure everyone gets what they want from the program, Vermeer keeps class sizes to eight students at a time, with three full-time instructors. 

Here Vermeer highlights a pair of operators that attended the HDD Circuit program in September 2016. 

Certified Operator Profile: Caleb Thompson, Mauler Contracting in Miles City, Montana
Caleb Thompson attended the HDD Circuit training program in September of 2016 and has gone on to start his own company, Mauler Contracting in Miles City, Montana.

After spending more than seven years working in the oil industry — doing everything from drilling, production work and reclamation, to building facilities and project management — Thompson decided it was time for a change. When a friend approached him about running a horizontal directional drill of his, Thompson knew it was a good fit. Since he already had so much experience working on drilling rigs and mixing mud, he picked up on horizontal directional drilling very quickly.

Thompson says almost every machine operator was required to be certified while working in the oil fields, which is why obtaining an HDD certification was important to him. “I did a Google search for a certification program, and the Vermeer HDD Circuit program was the first thing that showed up. I registered for the course immediately.” 

Looking for additional seat time behind the controls and a better understanding of locating best practices, Thompson says he got so much more from his two weeks in Pella, Iowa. “The instructors were very accommodating to what we wanted to get from our experience,” he explains. “They taught us on-the-job best practices that I used to develop my company’s standard operating procedures. However, I think the biggest benefit of taking the course is that the instructors have stayed in contact with me to see how I’m doing and answer questions I have.”

After completing the course, Thompson spent the next several months getting his business off the ground, which included developing a business plan, writing a SOP manual, securing funding and insurance.

“I would say the most challenging part of the process was finding a bank that would finance my business,” Thompson says. “Even though I’ve operated equipment all my life, I didn’t have a lot of experience as an HDD operator, so I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. My HDD operator certification made a huge difference. Making that investment showed my lenders I was serious about the business, and taking the necessary steps to be successful.” 

The HDD operator certification also benefited Thompson while shopping for insurance. “I could prove I'm certified and the SOP manual I developed helped me secure a better rate.”

Thompson now has Mauler Contracting up and running. The company is based in Miles City, but Thompson says they spend most of their time traveling around the surrounding states. “Being willing to travel is an approach that I think will help build our reputation and customer base.” 

Certified Operator Profile: Jason Gable, Jackson Energy Authority in Jackson, Tennessee
Jason Gable got his first chance to run a directional drill at the age of 18 for an uncle that owns a small drilling company. After eight years, he moved on to work with other contractors in Tennessee, before he accepted a position with the Jackson Energy Authority. 

“I started working in the Jackson Energy Authority's gas department,” Gable says. “At the time, I didn’t know we would eventually get a drilling rig of our own.” 

After four years on the job, Jackson Energy Authority purchased a new horizontal directional drill of its own and asked Gable to run it. “The company also budgeted for training,” he says. “I was pretty excited about that — it had been years since I was on a drill and there can sometimes be little room for ‘on-the-job training’ mistakes when you’re operating a drill.” 

Jackson Energy Authority sent two people through the Vermeer HDD Circuit program in September of 2016. “Going through together helped us develop good communication habits and a good workflow,” Gable says. “We both learned the right way to do the job at the same time. I think that has been a huge benefit.”  

Gable says learning all about mixing drilling fluids, what type of mixture should be used based on the soil conditions and the product being pulled back was interesting. “I was aware of a lot of the different kinds of mud, but the instructors spent time explaining all of the different options and what ratios we should be mixing them.” 

He was also impressed by the advancements made in locating equipment. “It’s pretty cool to see how that technology has changed in four years. Paying a little extra for good equipment can save a lot of time and increase productivity.” 

Gable says the Vermeer HDD Circuit program has given him a lot more confidence on the job and helped with training other people. “I learned a lot during my two weeks in Pella, and now I’m trying to share that learning with others.”  

What it takes to become an HDD certified operator
Every Vermeer HDD Circuit program attendee is evaluated in the field and is required to pass an exam before finishing the course. Vermeer recently partnered with Des Moines Area Community College to certify the HDD Circuit program, making it the first accredited program of its kind in the United States. 

To learn more about HDD Circuit training, contact Vermeer at


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