Locator Training - An Ideal Model

08 November 2020


For many years, utility locating has been considered in Australia as a low-skilled task which required little training. The field was largely unregulated. Works were done with a combination of careful digging, limited utility plans and occasional utility locating where it could be kept within the confines of the budget. The traditional Australian attitude of “She’ll be right!” was in full force.

Unfortunately that approach to locating still prevails. We see the responsibility for locating utilities pushed down to crews working in the field. In order to achieve basic compliance at minimum cost, workers are sent to complete a one or two day training course which can only ever cover the bare minimum. On completion they are deemed “competent” and commence locating duties immediately. The provision of paint marks on the ground by a “competent locator” then leads the excavation crew to a false sense of security and that, ultimately, leads to utility damages.

In contrast to this compliance-based approach, Earth Radar has engaged Staking U to develop a rigorous and extensive training program for locators. While there is no external structure for locator training, this model can effectively deliver the skillset required of utility locators before they start working solo. A reasonable timeframe for locators to spend developing their skills is 6-12 months – and yet we work in an industry where a short course is deemed sufficient.

While implementation of a certification program for locators is a generally positive step, the lack of change across the industry is troubling – our desire for compliance leads us down a path of enforced mediocrity, as companies strive only to acquire that minimum level of ability.


Phase 1: Recruitment

A typical training program starts from the moment the new team member is recruited. For the first two weeks, the trainee will go through various inductions ranging from the internal safety induction to any processes required for various sites they are likely to attend. They will spend time working with experienced locators on small and large jobs, and as an assistant on vacuum excavation units. This gives an introduction to the underground utility world, and a very basic understanding of the context of their position in the industry.

Phase 2: Training

During the training phase, the trainee will undergo formal training in both EM and GPR locating techniques. They will acquire RIICCM202D Identify Locate & Protect Underground Services, which is the base level of training commonly implemented throughout the industry. We consider this to be a very basic introductory course – it outlines the general requirements for locate staff and should include a practical locating session, but the time dedicated to learning is minimal, and this unit of competency is targeted at raising awareness of utility locating, rather than at locating skills. RIICCM202D is delivered to varying levels of quality and comprehensiveness by a large number of RTOs around Australia.

In addition to RIICCM202D, trainees take on Staking U’s Utility Locator Training Program, which includes three days of intensive EM and GPR training. This provides extra depth of technical knowledge which is then put into practice immediately in the field through a mentorship system. Senior Earth Radar locators work to ensure that the trainee understands what they have learned through the courses, and the trainee is gradually upskilled to increase their autonomy from performing basic locate tasks to being able to work in more complex areas.

Phase 3: Field Experience

The final phase of the process is based entirely on field work. During this time the trainee will shift from guided mentoring of locating tasks to completing entire locates under supervision of their mentor. A broad range of locating environments must be covered; Earth Radar’s works cover small locates, major projects, highways and intersections, high voltage substations, military bases, schools and a huge range of other areas. Before a locator is signed off to work autonomously they must be able to demonstrate that they have the knowledge and ability to work in these environments. It is expected that this phase will take several months to complete.
Even after a year of training, there is room for continuing professional development and career progression into other areas; survey, logistics, operations, management and training are all potential areas for experienced locators to move into. There is plenty of cynicism around long-term training for locators; concerns that locators will receive a year of continuous training only to leave for a position elsewhere are common. By providing continuous professional development and career pathways for competent locators to follow, we encourage long-term engagement.



Originally Published by


Simon Ankor
Senior Trainer at Staking U Asia-Pacific
#utilities #infrastructure #training #utilitylocating #utilitymapping #survey

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