The Accidental Young Gun Building a Career in Water Jetting
When Lee O’Callaghan invited James Alligan for a job interview, he was looking to fill a gap in his fence building team.
But then a need arose to support a team on an important drainage project so when James turned out to be an ideal candidate, he was offered the job.
Four years on, James is a highly-valued member of the drainage team at D&L Contract Services, based in Wembley, North West London, and a member of the Water Jetting Association (WJA).
Young water jetter
He is also the subject of our Young Gun feature series, which allows the WJA to highlight the excellent work done by young water jetters as they forge successful careers in our industry.
Lee, owner of D&L Contract Services, is certain James qualifies. He said: “James has excelled since joining us from day one and has become a very good drainage engineer.
“He’s developed excellent technical knowledge, good common sense and is very good with customers. Also, he understands that safety is paramount and sets high standards accordingly.
“Being able to ensure new recruits like James have undergone WJA training before they are given individual responsibility to carry out water jetting, and then keeping their certification up to date, is a foundation stone of our approach to developing competent and safe teams.”
Planning a career change
James joined D&L Contract Services after completing a Level 3 qualification in planning. Suffice to say, becoming a drainage engineer was not top of his list of career options.
“I was recommended to get in touch with Lee by a friend. I had never thought about drainage work,” he said. “But I’m glad I took up my friend’s advice, because I really enjoy the job.
“Every day is different and I’m still learning new things every day. It’s challenging and rewarding. When you jet out a blockage and the customer is so happy, it’s a great feeling.”
Now aged 23, James was 19 when he started, and began by shadowing a much older and more experienced drainage engineer, someone he still turns to for advice when he needs it.
Now, though, he operates his own drainage van pack – a van that combines a high pressure water jetting pump and CCTV drainage survey cameras.
WJA training success
One of his first tasks was to complete his WJA City & Guilds-accredited water jetting training. James has always been respectful of the risks associated with drainage work.
“One of the first things you realise is that the high pressure water jetting system we use is a lot more powerful than a pressure washer,” he said. “Doing WJA training and then following best practice is really important.”
Water jetting is just one of the hazards in drainage work. Working at height, above large manholes and chambers, confined space working, slips and trips and bio-hazards associated with sewage are ever present risks.
Hidden drainage challenges
James said: “My mates say they couldn’t do what I do, just because of the smell. But that’s not as bad as people think, though being faced with my first full manhole and stack pipe was a bit of a challenge.
“What I find interesting is all the hidden challenges with drainage work. In central London you’re dealing with drains that are over 100 years old, built at a time when there were no standards in design.
“At the other end of the scale, I’m finding the drainage systems for a lot of modern houses, built in the last 20 years, can also be a bit slap dash. Builders can cut corners and we have to go in to sort out the problems caused.”
As he has progressed, Lee has given James more responsibility. He carries out a lot of CCTV surveys, does a lot of site drainage plans and is moving into carrying out pipe lining work for clients.
Excellent jetting future
With D&L Contract Services providing drainage support for housing associations, building companies, councils, schools and sports stadiums, as well as private householders, there is plenty to keep him busy.
James sees an excellent future ahead of him as a water jetting drainage engineer, with technical skills and knowledge that will allow him to progress and move upwards in a worthwhile career.
However, he says, there is still nothing quite like the thrill of popping a persistent blockage with the power of water jetting.