With over 12 years’ experience in the ground investigation industry, Nathan Finnan has been working as a senior field technician at SOCOTEC’s Deeside office for the last two years. Attending some of the UK’s biggest infrastructure projects, Nathan discusses the various benefits of field technician work, detailing how his past experience as a window sample driller continues to play a major part in his day-to-day role.
What does a typical day look like for a field technician?
There is no such thing as a typical working day for a field technician – we are working for so many clients across the UK, all of whom have individual specifications that require any number of tests and sampling methods. My role largely involves determining ground, geological and structural conditions and material parameters on a range of sites, gathering data and creating reports based on my findings. Most recently, my work has seen me using an inclinometer probe on a number of reservoirs across the North West, where I was required to take readings every half metre on the ground to determine whether the embankments had any movement.
How did you become a senior field technician?
Before I became a field technician, I worked as a window sample lead driller for an engineering company from 2006 to 2017, where I was responsible for providing geotechnical information on soil parameters and ground conditions. The breadth of experience that I gained in this role was something that I have been able to bring into my current position, not only in my day-to-day work but also in terms of expanding the organisation’s horizons – we now have a window sampling capability running from SOCOTEC’s Deeside office.
Over the years, I have acquired a vast array of qualifications which have also contributed to me securing my senior field technician role. This includes an NVQ Level 2 in window sample drilling, a CITB-accredited Site Supervisor Safety Training Scheme (SSSTS) certification, a CSCS card and a UKATA Asbestos Awareness certificate, all of which have provided me with an enhanced level of expertise in my field technician work. Strong attention to detail, good time management and an analytical mindset are important attributes to have if you’re considering a career as a field technician. Flexibility and commitment are also key, as you will be required to travel up and down the UK, sometimes at unsociable hours or over weekends.
What is the most interesting/high profile project you have worked on during your time at SOCOTEC?
In my position as senior field technician, I have been fortunate enough to have worked on some of the biggest site investigation projects across the UK, including a high profile nationwide infrastructure project, and have carried out works on highways, wastewater treatment plants, reservoirs and even a popular holiday resort. I have also recently drilled my deepest window sample borehole to date at 15.45 metres below ground level, which is testament to SOCOTEC continuing to invest in the latest drilling equipment.
What do you enjoy the most about your role as a senior field technician?
The best thing about my role as a senior field technician is that each day is different to the one before. I particularly enjoy learning the different sampling and testing procedures required for the different geological conditions on each site, they provide their own individual challenges. As SOCOTEC is committed to supporting professional development, there is always the capacity to learn something new. Even after 12 years within the geotechnical industry and an NVQ Level 2 qualification, I am still picking things up as I go along, such as getting to know the on-site processes that take place once the drilling works have been completed and the monitoring wells have been installed.
Another benefit to my role is the fact that we work very closely alongside the project manager and engineers for every job we carry out, and it’s an extremely satisfying feeling to know that we are all working together to achieve a common goal. The work I carry out on site plays an essential part within the life cycle of each individual project, and I feel valued knowing that I am contributing towards a much bigger picture within SOCOTEC’s ground investigation team.
Senior members of the team are always more than happy to provide extra training to learn new testing methods, which provides additional opportunity to learn new things and look at the project in hand from both sides. This greatly benefits my own work, as I obtain a greater understanding of where each drilled location is and allows me to work to the risk assessments and method statements (RAMS) provided. I can then inform the rest of my team and/or those attending the site of any issues they may have overlooked or missed.
What sort of challenges do you face on the job?
Dealing with a wide range of health and safety issues on site is a key priority, as the geographical variability of each site means that there are a host of different risk factors to take into account. Every site must be assessed based on how well it complies with relevant health and safety legislation and guidelines to ensure that the location is safe for my team to work on and does not present any risk to the surrounding community and environment.
What is the best thing about working for SOCOTEC’s Ground Investigation division?
Before I joined SOCOTEC, I had had prior experience of dealing with the business through my work as a subcontractor, and as a result, already had a great impression of the organisation. I feel extremely proud to be working on behalf of SOCOTEC, as the variability of my role in terms of the range of site locations and different geological conditions across each project means that I have been able to develop an enhanced level of expertise within my field.
Whether I am on site alone on a one-day project or with a team of engineers, project managers and health and safety experts for a longer period, I consider myself extremely fortunate to work in such a dynamic arena. Not only has my exposure to a variety of different site environments broadened my geological expertise and experience, it has also equipped me with the confidence and competence to overcome any number of challenges as and when they arise on site. Finally, my colleagues make coming into work each day extremely worthwhile, which I consider to be an incredibly important part of job satisfaction.
Do you have any advice for anyone who may be considering a career as a field technician?
It’s really important that you enjoy the work that you are doing. There will be times when you are working alone on site in the blistering cold or in the dead of the night, so be sure to remember that your colleagues and managers believe in your skills and are confident that you can achieve the best results.
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