Ask anyone in management what their biggest challenges are, and you’ll likely hear the same few answers:
And maybe most importantly:
Often time in management, it’s easy to focus a lot of energy on the effect and not the cause, like planning equipment repairs, implementing upgrades to systems to make up for inefficiencies in operations, and reading the weather report and doing rain dances to get the peak efficiency out of the plant.
But, how often do we look at our PEOPLE as a cost-saving measure?
In previous blogs, we’ve discussed the importance of procedural compliance to operations and the challenges faced due to an aging workforce. These factors are related and can have a significant impact on your O&M costs. In his blog on the aging workforce (1), Rick Cragg points out that up to half of the current power generation workforce will be ready to retire in the next 5-10 years. Losing these 40+ year veterans of the industry creates knowledge gaps management will need to address.
How does this affect your bottom line?
Up to 80% of equipment failures are caused by human error and nearly 40% of those failures are training or procedure-related (2). Recently, a lot of effort has been placed in building technologies that track or improve human efficiency. Some emerging technologies remove humans from the process entirely. Unfortunately, these technologies come with many growing pains and often hinder innovation by taking the human factor out of the equation. Usually, quality training that builds quality operators is much more cost-effective and efficient than adopting a new experimental technology that may or may not work.
In his discussion on the importance of following procedures (3), Jason Enge discusses the frequency at which operating personnel at plants justify their lack of using provided procedures. Many times, this is caused by material failures or a misunderstanding of how or why something is working (or not working). Not using provided procedures can be extremely dangerous as it often results in equipment operating outside of its design or in a never before seen system configuration. Further, management is unable to identify and correct procedural issues before the procedures become outdated and unusable. Obsolete and incorrect procedures, when finally used by personnel attempting to follow plant policy over tribal knowledge, can often result in equipment failure, or worse, personnel injury. In the absence of being able to have a system engineer in the plant 24/7 monitoring operations and updating procedures, we have to rely on training our operators to understand what they’re operating, what right and wrong looks like, and the importance of using and updating procedures.
The Human Cost
In a 2018 article in Entrepreneur (4), Stephane Kasriel highlights that millennials change jobs three times as often as the previous generations of workers, costing industry billions of dollars a year. In his book “The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave” Leigh Branham (5) highlights a lack of training as a major reason that employees feel disengaged, and eventually leave their jobs. The truth of the matter is, employees that are INADEQUATELY TRAINED are unhappy at work, and unhappy employees seek employment elsewhere.
When your operators are unhappy and disconnected, they not only lack the knowledge to make you better, they lack the drive to seek out ways to advance the company. No amount of technology, plant upgrades, or wage increase can make up for unmotivated, undriven, untrained personnel that don’t feel confident in their ability to perform their jobs.
The goal of any organization is to be profitable and efficient. As managers, we focus time and money on equipment maintenance and often overlook our people as a return on investment. Think of your training program as the maintenance plan for your personnel. Would you forgo effective preventative maintenance on a pump or turbine, and just replace it when it failed? Of course not! You focus resources to ensure your equipment is properly cared for, so why think any differently about your people? Spend time developing and implementing training that builds confidence and competence in your people as a preventative measure instead of replacing them in the future. It will be money well spent.
To learn more about effective training strategies and how training can increase your retention as well as improve plant operations, check out our services at https://www.fossilconsulting.com/services/
(1) Cragg, R. (2019, May 17). Fossil Consulting Services, Inc., “The Aging Workforce”
(2) Troyer, D (2010, March). Noria Corporation., “Human Factors Engineering: The Next Frontier in Reliability”
(3) Enge, J. (2019, September 12). Fossil Consulting Services, Inc., “Strict Compliance to Approved Procedures”
(4) Kasriel, S. (2018, June 07). Entrepreneur., “Young Workers No Longer Get the On-the-Job Training They Need — So They’re Finding It Elsewhere.”
(5) Branham, L. (2012). American Management Association., “The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave How to Recognize the Subtle Signs And Act Before It’s Too Late.”