Staff Spotlight: Ian Boyle
What is your role within Geotechnics?
I’m a Senior Site Supervisor and it’s not just because I’m old! People look at that title Senior Site Supervisor and they naturally assume, “Well he must be old”. For me, it’s because I have a lot of experience on site. If you have an issue on site that you are struggling to resolve, then it’s likely that I have experienced the same or similar problem and can advise. That’s the benefit of experience.
And how long have you been working at Geotechnics?
It is coming on to twenty years now! There’s a lot of good people here. There’s people that I’ve grown up in the industry with, people like David Bland, the Regional Manager at Coventry, John Booth, the MD, who I knew working at Exploration Associates and Terry Clark, who’s now retired, as well.
So looking back to when you started, how did you first get involved in the industry?
Originally I was trying to get in the RAF. I had just completed my A-levels and I applied to RAF Biggin Hill. I was due there for a three day selection process in October, and Dad said I’d have to go to work before then. So I picked up the paper and found a role at Exploration Associates as a Lab Technician. I got the interview, got the job and then I stayed there until October.
I went to the selection, but unfortunately failed on my maths and had to go back to Exploration. I told them I couldn’t stay in the laboratory and they offered me a job in the stores. So I went to work in stores for a couple of years: samples stores, then equipment stores. And then Terry Clark gave me a job on site and that was really the start of it! Before, I felt a bit hemmed in and confined in the stores and the office. I couldn’t stay in one place - I just couldn’t. So I went onto site and then things went from there.
My first job was on a road project, in 1989 or 1990. That was a big job for Exploration. I started off as a site technician but became a sort of plastic engineer really! We had 400 trial pits to do, and we had two engineers with two machines doing eight pits a day. That’s what I did for the best part of 6-8 weeks, right from then I started being an engineer, but I hadn’t got the qualifications.
A chap called Gary Deacon gave me a few pointers for logging and sampling. I think I had two days with Gary. I shadowed him the first day; he watched me the second day; and then I was away. I worked on site on that project for 9 months and it was as that job was being demobilised I was given my first contract to run. That job involved 9 cable percussive boreholes - a few on scaffolding with Traffic Management and Hi-ab lifts for me to organise - the samples I returned to the office for logging.
I’ve got experience of lots of different aspects of the job – including things that used to be done years ago, like impression packers (though you don’t see them used anymore), packer tests and plate loads. They’re not things you can send someone out to do straight away: you need to have a background with pumps and nitrogen bottles and so on.
I learned a lot with Exploration - mainly how to use the different types of equipment we have in the industry and then at Geotechnics I learned things like how to work with a team, something that got lost at EA. In more recent years, I’ve learned to be more customer focused and how to meet the client’s requirements in terms of Health and Safety, production and generally providing the kind of service that the client envisaged when they employed Geotechnics.
What is a typical day like for you?
In the office, I start with the emails, answering queries. Normally my role is to set up jobs. I do a lot of work with the method statements, I’ve written some of the risk assessments, and I help with procurement sometimes. That’s more Andy Suominen’s role at Coventry, and Rob Webster books the rigs, but I like to choose my own drilling rigs or at least liaise with Rob about them. From that I’ll start thinking about the job - how I’m going to do it, what resources we need - and collating that information in preparation for the job start.
Normally, I can read a file and I can visualise the job. That is something people just can’t do without experience. I can literally see the job on the floor in whatever environment – be it rail, road, greenfield… Obviously I don’t know about the weather or the ground conditions, but I can visualise what is needed and I can see it all happening before it happens, because of my experience, I can anticipate the issues that might arise.
On site, everyone starts with the daily activity briefing and people are encouraged to raise any issues they might have. My job as supervisor is to take on board those issues and work out how to address them. It could be Health and Safety issues, targets for the project… The site team can bring any issues to my attention for me to deal with.
How do you think that the geotechnical industry has changed since you joined it?
Health and Safety has changed a lot in 20 years, and so it should. No longer are people on site in trainers, or working without hardhats on. Quite rightly so. There have been a number of improvements to cable percussion and rotary rigs, and the company has been at the forefront of promoting the implementation of those improvements in recent years.
I’m the spokesperson on the Health and Safety Committee for our drilling services. When I canvass drillers every six months what they think about working for Geotechnics, the usual comment is that we are the best company to work for in regards to Health and Safety and that’s because of the company’s ethos, and how workers are supervised on site.
What’s your favourite part of your job?
I like the training aspect of it. I like to give my experience to others so they can improve, and I’m not so conceited as to say that they have to do it my way. I always say to them “If you’ve got a better idea, please come and tell me. If it is better, we’ll take that on board”.
I enjoy the challenges of difficult access jobs, crossing bogs, climbing castle walls or working over water - they bring a slight tremor to your insides and rattle your nerves. That’s healthy, and focuses the mind.
I think I have a forthright manner, which can be taken the wrong way, but I am learning to try and deal with that, and curtail that a little bit. If I’m a little bit sharp with people, I have now at least learned to apologise occasionally!
What do you like to do outside work?
Fine dining is quite high up on the list. There’s a restaurant in Burton that a colleague, Steve, told me about. It’s called Dovecliff Hall and it’s sort of a country house hotel, so it’s quite nice when I go there.
I go to the theatre too, though not very often. The last show I saw was Billy Elliot, believe it or not! Blood Brothers is probably one of my favourites. I’ve seen Phantom of the Opera, Cats and Les Miserables too.
What’s your favourite place you’ve traveled to and why?
Definitely Monte Carlo. We went on holiday to Saint Raphael, in the South of France. We always thought that the day we went to Monte Carlo it would be horrendously expensive, but it wasn’t. We visited the palace and the old town; the casino; walked along the promenade on the Princess Grace Memorial walk, and ate in the marina on the front - underneath the hill on the Formula 1 course at Saint Devote. We were treated very well. Everywhere we went in Monaco, the people were lovely. It was a wonderful experience and everyone should go there.