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March 3-7, 2026

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Next-Generation Training Prepares New Operators



HDD (horizontal directional drilling) contractors are experiencing the same worker shortage being felt throughout many industrial markets, including the utility construction market. As the HDD industry continues to grow—strongly driven by the progressing fiber build-out—it is clear there is a shortage of experienced operators to help construct the expanding networks.

Manufacturers must focus their efforts on building effective training programs to help engage with the next-generation workforce to fill the broadening skills gap, and continue to retain experienced operators.

The question driving training technology today: How do contractors safely, quickly, and cost effectively help shape new HDD operators out of a pool that lacks knowledge and industry experience, and is used to learn digitally?

The Ditch Witch answer: Ditch Witch Certified Training, including the new VR (virtual reality) HDD simulator technology.

This new technology was developed to appeal to next-generation learners and help accelerate training among a booming industry—all in a safe and risk-free environment. The digital, hands-on training experience simulates and familiarizes new operators with machine controls and a variety of drilling environments and scenarios, such as urban areas, rural terrain, and river crossings. This is as close as you can get to actual operation while reducing possible safety implications of putting untrained operators directly on a jobsite.

Taking advantage of today’s newest technologies, the VR simulator technology offers an innovative format to engage with the new, tech-savvy generation of drill operators entering the market. This experience helps connect operators’ classroom knowledge with the opportunity to confidently operate a drill before stepping foot on the jobsite, improving safety and lowering total cost of ownership for contractors.

On-the-job training has been the primary method of training for decades, and new training technologies should not be used as a substitute to traditional methods. At Ditch Witch, the VR HDD simulator is part of a broader HDD training program. This includes classroom training, dealership training, on-the-job training, and a newer online program that allows novice operators to train online at home, in a dealership, or on a mobile device at their convenience. Combined with Ditch Witch certified HDD training courses, the VR simulator will be an important component of training curriculum in the future.

With the fiber build-out and the incredible market demand for replacement infrastructure, the HDD market shows no signs of slowing down. Operators are installing utilities in rural areas, as well as keeping pace with the growing technological requirements in urban areas, creating a new set of challenges for operators of all skill levels.  

As contractors look to fill their labor needs, training works hand in hand with promoting the next-generation workforce. By connecting and adapting the Ditch Witch training program to fit today’s market needs, operators at all skill levels can get the information they need to get the job done correctly and safely.

Greg Wolfe is director of training for Ditch Witch.

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