As the Baby Boom generation heads into retirement, carrying decades of knowledge like knapsacks strapped to their backs, plants need new recruits to step up and become high performing controls professionals to replace them.
At Emerson Global Users Exchange 2017 in Minneapolis, bridging the knowledge gap has become a formal program complete with one-on-one mentoring from process control veterans. Tanner Rundall, director, educational services at Emerson Automation Solutions, talked about the efforts to get new employees upskilled as quickly as possible once they enter the workforce and how to keep them current as they progress through their careers.
"We have to be very conscious of how we best cater to their learning needs as we implement this technology," said Rundall, who announced the debut of the company’s Control Performance Academy. "It’s a comprehensive program specifically designed for new process control engineers," said Rundall. "Many of the people who have been in the plant for many years are retiring and are taking the knowledge with them. What we are trying to do with this program is get as much experience and perspective for new process control engineers as quickly as possible."
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The Control Performance Academy program effectively compresses five to 10 years’ worth of work experience into less than 24 months. With a graduated specialized curriculum in which each phase builds on the previous and individual coaching from Emerson experts, the Academy turns novices into qualified engineers more efficiently.
In addition to meeting the industry’s need for new talent, the program helps to advance knowledge-sharing between new and seasoned engineers all over the world.
Through three phases of instruction, students put the concepts they learn into practice using Emerson’s EnTech Toolkit, which serves as a platform for simulating, testing and analyzing process dynamics and performance. By combining a blended-learning approach with one-on-one mentoring from Emerson experts, the Academy gives trainees a solid foundation of skills and abilities around designing and troubleshooting control strategies, to optimize process performance.
"It's a curriculum that combines online, in-class and a number of workshops," said Rundall. "What we do differently is that we actually pair customers with experienced process control consultants within Emerson, so they get the coaching and mentoring along with the direct feedback about what's working and what's not."
Emerson is also helping maintain proficiency through competency-based development. "This process is an extension of our consulting methodology where we come in and work with customers on the things they need to learn or specific job roles and not the things they don't need to know,” said Rundall. "Traditionally, you may attend a class for a week and learn a lot, but when you return to a plant, you may only use 10 or 15% of it."
Control Performance Academy works with customers to ensure they’re receiving tailored and custom curriculum for specific job roles such as maintenance technicians and controls engineers. "But, even then, it is difficult to stay current. If the information isn't used immediately, it may be forgotten. Because of this, we are pairing this methodology with technology utilized in the plant itself."
Emerson makes it as simple and efficient as possible through cloud-based operator training. "A new concept we are introducing is called maintenance training," said Rundall. "Similar to operator training, we are building skids to enable customers to practice specific things on a skid at the facility before performing a configuration or calibration of production devices in the plant."
On-demand expert coaching is yet another upskilling offering from Emerson. All Control Performance Academy graduates receive up to 40 hours of remote consultation and mentoring with a certified Emerson process controls engineer. Students can call or email their assigned experts to set up an on-demand Web conference, which allows the Emerson engineer to view actual system data or share students’ desktops.
Emerson has also launched a series of online video tutorials and how-to videos. It is just an introduction to the broader learning-based curriculum Emerson is offering but should work well with the YouTube generation.
"Online learning is good, but it is never a substitute for hands-on training,” said Rundall. "Emerson has made an investment in its brick-and-mortar facilities over the past two years, upgrading or building from scratch 11 facilities and more through acquisitions."