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10:31 pm
July 1, 2014
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Part II, Handoff To The Future: Mapping Reliability Training

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A commitment to detailed, well-laid career-path training plans is critical to developing technical knowledge and skills. 

By Heinz P. Bloch, P.E.

As discussed in Part 1 of this article (MT June 2014), when it comes to reliability commitment, Best Practices Plants (BPPs) clearly differ from those that aren’t. Their ability to effectively identify and follow the best routes to reliability, coupled with their willingness to build and sustain strong reliability-focused organizations over the long term is noteworthy. So, too, is their understanding of the role that a smooth handoff from knowledgeable and skilled plant employees to future generations of workers plays in ensuring reliability commitment in their facilities. To accomplish this, they support training roadmaps and career-path-development plans for all personnel. This two-part article focuses specifically on the typical details covered in such plans—with an emphasis on “details.”

In addition to their respect for a well-trained workforce, a hallmark of organizations that reach Best-of-Class (BOC) status is their attention to details in all matters. Thus, when it comes to training, BOCs don’t simply develop and support the concepts and principles, they consider hundreds of details associated with that training. The “Typical Career-Path Development Training Plan for Machinery Engineers” (see sidebar) outlines some of those details.

Based on real-world development plans that many BOCs use in conjunction with training roadmaps for reliability and other technical personnel, this document lays out a typical timeline and path for developing critical knowledge and skills in new, intermediate and advanced engineers. In the process, it highlights another crucial issue raised in Part 1: Development of knowledge and skills in reliability and other personnel is not a one-sided proposition. Rather it requires buy-in and ongoing commitment from both the company and the employee. Key resources that can be used to develop buy-in and commitment on both sides include the following:

Trade Journals. Regular review of trade journals should form the first in a sequence of training obligations recognized by employer and employee. Training and information-sharing are mandatory endeavors at BOCs. Trade journals delivered to a BOC facility are typically routed to designated professionals for mandatory screening within three days of their arrival. When a topic prompts close review, the professional will likely forward a copy of the article to a colleague for reading or filing. In a future performance appraisal, it will be easy to ascertain the degree of seriousness and diligence with which a professional handled the implied technology update. Promotions and salary increases belong to those who use trade journals to educate themselves.

Shirt-Sleeve Seminars. An equally important obligation is the conscientious scheduling and presentation of “shirt-sleeve seminars.” At the end of a safety meeting, a reliability professional will “roll up his sleeves” and make a brief (under 10 minutes) presentation on a subject related to asset reliability at that facility. There are hundreds of topics that could be presented, and preparation for making such presentations is a good opportunity for the presenter to learn from many sources: older employees, texts or from vendors and manufacturers. Highlights of the presentation should be written on both sides of a single sheet of paper, laminated in plastic and three-hole-punched for inclusion in a three-ring binder. As an example, the topic might be how to remove a coupling from a pump shaft (side 1) and how to remove such couplings from a shaft without causing damage (side 2).

Much of the material suitable for shirt-sleeve-seminar presentations is easily found in current technical texts. A forward-looking and reliability-focused company facilitates acquisition of a technical library and encourages access to it. It can all start with a supervisor or manager being aware of the existence of relevant texts. Reading is not an imposition on a person seeking knowledge, nor is paying for such a book out of company funds a drain on company profits. Assembling a company technical library is one of the hallmarks of a modern facility, just as reading is a hallmark of true professionals.

Local Meetings of Engineering Societies. Next, understand the third mutually agreed-to training opportunity. The reliability professional is our future subject-matter expert, or SME. One of his or her obligations is to attend local technical society meetings. Participating in meetings of an ASME, Vibration Institute or other professional society’s local subsection is a networking opportunity that has no match. Typical two- to three-hour meetings are often held twice yearly and cost little to attend. If the knowledge transfer that takes place at one avoids the failure of even a single API-style pump per year, payback could exceed cost by 100:1 or more.

At BOCs, the company will typically cover membership fees and travel expenses for young and mid-level professionals to attend such meetings. Senior-level professionals will attend as well, and as true SMEs, they accept their implicit obligation to teach and give back to the profession as mentors and tutors.

Lunch-and-Learn Sessions. These are no-cost, 60- to 90-minute meetings arranged by vendors to take place at the reliability professional’s plant or convenient site nearby. A vendor representative explains his company’s products and invites clients and potential customers to attend. A professional in training serves as the liaison and recommends others who should attend (e.g., mechanics, machinists, technicians, engineers). His or her liaison activities include ascertaining that the content of the vendor representative’s presentation adds value and is not a sales presentation.

Steering Committees. Here, the reliability professional (technician or engineer) makes a semi-formal appearance to brief and inform his or  her managers. Mid-level managers are members of this Steering Committee and the presenter explains and documents how he or she carry out their roles, have spearheaded or accomplished improvements, or related information. These presentations give visibility to a professional employee’s contributions and serve as an educational update for steering-committee members.

Seminars and Conferences. The first five training opportunities listed above do not take the future SMEs away from home base. Also, the cost of their involvement in any of these activities is low or zero. But after exposure to each of the first five training activities, Best-of-Class companies advocate and support away-from-home training involvement. These BOC companies typically allocate 10 training days per year for each professional who is being groomed and nurtured for a value-adding professional career. He or she must thoughtfully select and plan attendance at the courses or conferences of value.

Attending training seminars away from the plant is never an unmonitored activity. The particular professional’s manager or supervisor must keep track of how the professional takes care of his/her training commitment. When handing in an expense statement, the professional must also submit a brief write-up of course content and/or lessons learned. This write-up must be shared with other professionals; it represents a tangible networking opportunity which should be considered mandatory, not optional.

Recognition and reward

One of the most important (yet little-known) facts is that the majority of professionals in the active job market seek different employment for reasons other than better pay. This situation is analogous to divorces. Few marriages break up because of the intense desire to find a new partner whose income exceeds that of the previous one. Most marriages break up because of lack of respect, untruthfulness, immoral, selfish or insensitive conduct, or just plain incompatibility. Most employer-employee relationships are wrecked for the same reasons.

Recognition is implicit whenever a professional is involved in presentations to a Steering Committee. Also, recognition and reward often come in the form of sincere expressions of appreciation for whatever good qualities or commendable performance are displayed by the employee. Still, a few well-chosen words given privately are usually better than public praise. All too often, public praise generates envy in others and may make life more difficult for the recipient of praise. Rewards in the form of Certificates of Recognition to be hung on an office wall come perilously close to being meaningless, and employers would be wise to consider how negatively these pieces of paper are often perceived. If you want to do something positive for an employee, hand them a certificate for $300 worth of technical books, or a $200 gift certificate for dinner at an upscale restaurant—whatever reaffirms that the employee’s contributions are valued.

Several major petrochemical companies frequently reward top technical performers with year-end bonuses that can top $40,000 for exceptional resourcefulness, the implementation of cost-saving measures or for being “doers” instead of “talkers.” There is nothing a company likes more than having its professional employees go on record with a firm, well-documented recommendation for specific action, rather than compiling lists of open-ended options for managers to consider. Top technical performers make solidly researched recommendations, showing their effect on risk-reduction and downtime avoidance or demonstrating their production- and quality-improvement impact.  Good professionals act on facts, average professionals act on opinions. Purveyors of opinions can deprive their employer companies of valuable solutions. They can lock employers in expensive approaches that belong in the dark ages where anecdotes were repeated and embellished. When these anecdotes become the standard operating mode of a company, this entity will lose its footing.

Dual career paths

Top-performing companies often create two career paths for personnel, also called a “dual ladder of advancement.” Upward mobility and rewards or recognition by promotion are possible either in the administrative or technical ladders of advancement. In certain industries, this is often the only sound, proven way to retain key personnel. There is full income and recognition parity between the administrative and technical job functions given in the table below:

Administrative

Technical

Group Leader

Project Engineer

Section Supervisor

Staff Engineer

Senior Section Supervisor

Senior Staff Engineer

Department Head

Engineering Associate

Division Manager

Senior Engineering Associate

Plant Manager

Scientific Advisor

Vice President

Senior Scientific Advisor

It has been shown that recognition and reward approaches have much to do with management style. There are many gradations and cultural differences that make one approach preferred over another. It is not possible to know or judge them all. Suffice to say that a thoughtless reward and recognition system is a serious impediment to employee satisfaction. Conversely, a thoughtful program is always a highly positive step.

Achieving success

No company has ever reached its true potential without a trained, well-motivated workforce. The rough outline of how to successfully train reliability professionals is available from hundreds of articles and books. But success requires consistent attention to details. Success is in the grasp of employers and employees who have a common stake in the matter. It is achieved when both sides view intelligent training of mutual benefit. It’s truly multi-faceted and requires the thoughtful implementation of many details.  MT

A Typical Career-Path-Development Training Plan for Machinery Engineers

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Click to enlarge.

Based on real-world versions that many BOCs use in conjunction with formalized training roadmaps for reliability and other technical personnel, this plan reflects a timeline and path for developing new, intermediate and advanced engineers.* 

For a complete list of references and books to help you on your journey to success, click here.

Heinz Bloch currently resides in Westminster, CO. His professional career includes long-term assignments as Exxon Chemical’s Regional Machinery Specialist for the United States. Bloch holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in Mechanical Engineering and has authored over 600 publications, among them 18 comprehensive books. He is an ASME Life Fellow. This article is based on his workshop and follow-up discussion group session at the 2014 AFPM
Reliability & Maintenance Conference in San Antonio, TX. For more information, contact Heinz at heinzpbloch@gmail.com.

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