Trainee water jetter Sean Middleton may have come a little late to his new career – but he is certainly making up for lost time.
Sean was 50 years old when he began working for Water Jetting Association (WJA) member Aquaforce Concrete Services in September 2019.
Since then he has gone from strength to strength and is looking forward to building a second career as a water jetting operative.
The WJA is telling Sean’s story to help mark its 40th anniversary. The WJA was founded, first as the National Association of High Pressure Water Jetting Contractors, in 1980.
It wants other people to see how water jetting could be an excellent choice for a long and rewarding career.
WJA Director David Kennedy says: “WJA members offer excellent opportunities for employees who want to learn real skills and do work that’s varied, rewarding and very worthwhile.
“Water jetting has developed to become a highly-respected process, relied upon in many industrial sectors, including construction, petrochemicals, manufacturing and marine engineering.
“We want to see more people like Sean consider a career in high pressure water jetting. It’s a role suited to people of all ages, as long as they want to learn, are responsible and set high standards.”
Professionalism and achievement
“When I first started water jetting, my first thought was that this is a bit scary,” says Sean. “The water jets are so powerful. But the support and training I’ve had have been fantastic.
“The health and safety and care for us as a workforce is second to none. Compared with my previous job, it’s like going from the Middle Ages to the 21st Century in one big step.”
Now, says Sean, that he is beginning to get to grips with the many technical and physical facets of water jetting, his work is giving him a real sense of achievement.
“I like work that needs real control and professionalism,” he says. “You have to respect the power of water jets. I’m getting a buzz from a job that makes me think about what I’m doing.”
Time for a career change
Sean, from Doncaster, South Yorkshire, joined Aquaforce after taking redundancy from a job he’d had in a construction services company from the day he left school, aged 16.
He was a qualified insulation engineer and scaffolder, and an experienced concrete layer, but was not sure what to do next.
Sean’s brother, Russell, who also works at Aquaforce and has been a water jetting operative for 20 years, made his mind up for him.
“He’d mentioned the idea of me applying for a job before, and he suggested it again, so I went for it,” says Sean. “It was a bit different to what I’d been doing, but I was up for a change.”
The job interview was “nerve-wracking”, he says. He had never done one before. But he passed muster and was taken on as a trainee.
WJA training – building confidence
Sean was sent on the WJA Safety Awareness course – a one day class-based course, accredited by City & Guilds – which covers all key aspects of high pressure water jetting.
That includes water jetting terminology, process and equipment, risk assessment, safety procedures, protective clothing and site set up.
He also undertook and passed the WJA’s Hydrodemolition practical module, a one-day course, also accredited by City & Guilds.
Sean says: “Doing the WJA training was very useful to me. It made me understand the important aspects of the job, especially about safety. I certainly don’t think I would go into water jetting if the WJA training wasn’t there, to set standards.”
The WJA courses have complemented a robust internal training regime designed to instruct Sean, in controlled stages, in all aspects of high pressure and ultra high pressure water jetting.
No room for complacency
“Everything is about safety,” says Sean. “My brother said you can never let your guard down, even as an experienced water jetter. Don’t get complacent. You need to be in control and do everything spot on. I could see what he meant straight away.”
Sean’s first experience of water jetting was in the depot, at a relatively low pressure and flow rate. The induction and process assessed the performance of the trainee operative and brought them on at a pace that is best for them.
Sean was a quick learner. His diligence and willingness to learn impressed supervisors and managers alike. It was not too long before he was out doing water jetting for real.
“When I was allowed out on a job, I was given just 10 minutes or so on the jetting gun, watched over by a senior operative,” says Sean. “I was watched and asked how I felt and told to take things slowly, don’t rush.
“Over time, you get to learn how to stand, how to hold the jetting gun and how move it to get the best results. It’s a science and an art as well. Every jetter has their own style, and you have to work out what’s best for you.”
Making a difference as a team
Sean realised he was really making progress when he worked on a project to remove concrete from a roadway on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire. The council needed to widen and strengthen the carriageway because it was being used by army tanks.
“We had to remove 15-20 cubic metres of concrete in around three weeks to expose the rebar ready for new concrete to be poured,” he explains. “We were getting through a lot of concrete, and I realised I was holding my own and getting a lot of material out myself.
“It was a good feeling at the end of each day to see what we’d achieved as a team and I knew I was making a difference as well. It was a good moment.”
Water jetting – “I’d recommend it”
As he was advised, Sean is not getting complacent, though. He is learning every day, he says, and must progress from trainee level to intermediate level and then to be a fully qualified water jetting operative.
Would he recommend the career to others? “Yes, I would. Most definitely” he says.
“It’s not something I would have thought about doing straight away, but now I’m in, I want to stay in and build a career. It’s demanding, physically and mentally. But, if you put it another way, it keeps you fit and on your toes.
“You have to be happy with working away from home because we go everywhere. Every day is different and water jetting gives you a real sense of achievement.”