Getting employee training right

In our April cover story, Senior Tech Editor Dan Hebert, PE, talks about the state of the art in training for the automation profession and how it is evolving to fit the needs of process control end users.

By Dan Hebert

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Another systems integrator finds that his clients also prefer real-world training. “We train our clients on target hardware using the same graphics that the plant will install at startup. We also use simple simulations, and we work with operators and engineers during commissioning,” says Ciammaichella of RoviSys.

The Las Vegas Valley Water District holds out for one-on-one training. “Almost all of our training is via vendor-offered skill improvement classes that are single-student,” say Waufle. “There is no better way to teach than one-on-one.”

One solution to the use-it-or-lose-it problem is just-in-time training, but that presents issues of its own. “Many of our projects are on a fast track, often with some new twist. The biggest training challenge is just-in-time or just-in-case. Do you train someone hoping they will work on a future project, or do you train at the start of a project? Timing with available classes makes just-in-time training very difficult to schedule,” according to Mauro at Minnesota Methane/United Gasco.

On-the-job training doesn’t work without mentors. “The majority of our training is on-the-job, where each person’s capabilities are matched to a specific project assignment. New people are typically matched with more experienced mentors to insure they get specialized training that meets their specific needs,” says Reizner of Procter & Gamble.

The challenge for all training plans is to maximize training effectiveness at a reasonable cost without taking employees away from work for an inordinate amount of time. Following training best practices can go a long way towards addressing these challenges, and can keep your company and its employees at the forefront of process control.

WHY TRAIN?

Increase productivity
  • Accomplish tasks internally instead of using outside resources
  • Develop new perspectives to solve nagging problems
  • Give replacement employees real-time practice in their back-up tasks
  • Impart the ability to recognize improvement opportunities 
  • Boost morale
  • Create consistency in implementation
  • Improve safety
  • Reduce employee stress
  • Increase employee confidence 
  • Help attract and retain employees
  • Refresh knowledge
  • Develop sense of camaraderie

TOP TRAINING CHALLENGES

  1. Taking time off from work
  2. Paying for courses and travel
  3. Using what’s learned immediately
  4. Finding courses specific to your industry and processes
  5. Finding courses customized to each student’s aptitude and needs
  6. Providing the right mentor for on-the-job training

TRAINING BEST PRACTICES

  • Train in small groups
  • Keep sessions short
  • Make training hands-on
  • Accommodate employee schedules
  • Measure what’s learned
  • Apply knowledge immediately
  • Use mentors for on-the-job training
  • Make training relevant to your industry and processes

How Vendors Train End Users

Robert Vogel, director, support services, for system integrator Advanced Automation, gives his take on how the company trains its process industry clients.

“We find it’s imperative to provide targeted and effective training that give personnel the ability to operate, support and maintain their systems. We have been designing and delivering training internally for more than 20 years, but in the past two years we have also been providing training as a deliverable to our clients.

“How does a company that’s focused on manufacturing technology solutions create an effective training system? By using many of the same strategies in our project engineering discipline to engineer training to meet clients’ needs.

“By effectively using the latest adult-learning models, focusing on the business goals and the driving reasons that justify training, and using skills-targeted, learner-based training and assessments, we’ve been able to ensure that training will increase employee effectiveness.

“We focus on the outcome each client wants to achieve. While this may seem obvious, it’s too often the missing step in developing a training program. We partner with each client to determine goals. That’s the starting point of any effective training program.

“Once the program goals are established, we consider the student’s skill sets and background. Using them as a starting point and framing them in the training program’s goals, we can focus the training on the most needed skills.

“There’s a knowledge gap that needs to be bridged by the training: determining where the learners are and where they need to be. This gap is ascertained by conducting an extensive needs analysis that then serves as the roadmap for each individual’s training.

Our training programs use each new level as the foundation for the next course, so that training level 101 will lead to 201, and to 301, etc.

Often, our task is to provide a base level of understanding for the majority of students. However, we usually find that some students are already knowledgeable in certain parts of the training curriculum and need more advanced training.

“With the stepped approach, we can target the instruction at different groups of students, avoiding the drink-from-the-fire hose approach that is typical of many canned courses. It also eliminates the boredom associated with one-size-fits-all training.

“Classes are typically short, about four hours, and oriented towards hands-on instruction. These two points have proven to be the most effective method to keep students focused.

“A common training program  our customers request centers around improving troubleshooting skills. We take students through the basics, but we incorporate the client’s actual equipment and drawing packages, and focus on areas where the students have specific issues. The students get trained on their own systems, creating an immediate positive impact on mean-time-to-repair.

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