Competency management solves skill shortages

June 21, 2017
It takes more than basic training to keep the skills of engineers, operators and techs up to today's challenges

Megatrends in the automation industry point to a greater need to manage the skills and abilities—the competence—of engineers and maintenance technicians, as well as operators. Mass retirements, young people changing jobs, the need to hire locally around the world, the increasing technical complexity of our systems, more rapid obsolescence of those systems, and the availability of new and more effective training technologies all are trends pressuring and guiding how we assess, correct and maintain competence.

“Surveys say 50% of experienced staff plan to retire within five years,” said Jack Gregg, senior global director, lifecycle solutions and services, Honeywell Process Solutions, to attendees of his session, “Competency Management,” at Honeywell Users Group 2017 this week in San Antonio, Texas.

“Two-thirds of millennials expect to leave their current job by 2020. Some 20% of new hires are from other nations, and many technologies are being updated about once a year,” Gregg said.

Cost of incompetence

Inadequate competency management costs plants due to errors, substandard operation and downtime:

  • 70% of cyber assessments show critical vulnerabilities
  • 50% of Honeywell’s “illness” calls misrepresent the problem
  • 40% of Honeywell Global Technical Assistance Center (GTAC) calls are for “training”
  • 30% of system behavior is not well understood
  • 30% of plants underestimate the skills needed.

“When we know what we need an employee to accomplish, ‘competency management’ determines how the employee will achieve those accomplishments,” Gregg said. “To develop a competent workforce, we must identify the needed skills, assess the employee’s skills, and provide appropriate training to fill the gap.”

Ongoing operational analysis and assessments allow Honeywell to continually identify gaps and devise individualized training to fill them. How well is the operator performing? How quickly and accurately does he respond to alarms? “If there’s a problem, is it a product, process or competency issue?” Gregg said. “Forty percent of abnormal situations are caused by human error.”

Put competence in control

“All the vendors offer training,” Gregg said. “Competency management is a higher level. It’s not just product training, but also process and skill assessment, gap analysis and targeted training.” Competency maps and metrics for each individual allow competence managers to determine what courses need to be taken, in what order.

Honeywell continues to develop and expand role-based training for board operators, process control engineers and maintenance technicians. “We have simulators for all three of these roles, with curricula for the roles and training that can be customized for each individual,” Gregg said.

Operations data is evaluated in the cloud, and individual performance can be analyzed to determine competence issues. “As we determine the necessary learning and deploy it to the site, we download role-based training simulations,” Gregg said. These can now include sessions using augmented reality and virtual reality. Combined with simulation, augmented reality and virtual reality tools also allow off-site and remote training.

An important element of training is practice. “An airline pilot uses a simulator for many hours before he’s allowed to fly a plane,” Gregg said. “We want to take the same approach. For example, we can highlight the cards a technician needs to pull and when you’ve done it on the simulator, you feel like you’ve actually done it. You have the muscle memory.”

Honeywell competency management offerings range from basic training up to a full training management contract. “It’s like Assurance 360 for competency,” Gregg said. “We want to raise skill levels in a very fast and efficient way.”