Digital training for tangible results
Whether it’s a new task or just a new way to do an old task, operations employees should constantly update and improve their skills. Regardless of industry, no one is ever finished learning—especially for those in charge of executing robust plant processes. Once a hazardous situation arises on the site-floor, it’s too late for training. Staff need to be able to think critically and solve problems quickly.
If they are not aware of all aspects of plant operations, it will cost the company a lot in wasted time, opportunity and most importantly, safety. To communicate effectively the plethora of critical information to operations personnel, sites should consider digitizing their operating manuals and implementing a targeted computer-based training (CBT) program.
A CBT program can help streamline coaching for operations personnel and front-line supervisors. If used as a complement to practical on-site training, the team will be more aware of the details and key information regarding equipment and specific processes. There are many advantages of CBT compared to a conventional classroom. It offers an ideal platform to create engaging, interactive courses with the help of images, audio elements, animations and videos. There is much more flexibility in regards to location and pace of learning. And, after what might be a high implementation cost, the return on investment should be high because there is no limit to the number of trainees that can take part. Also, updating the material is easy.
A successful, efficient CBT program can influence a plant’s operational results.
Setting up a CBT program
Creating a comprehensive, CBT plan is a labor-intensive task. Ideally, a seasoned plant engineer will write the content and operations management and other engineering personnel will review it. To compile the necessary information, the developers must gather source material from all operation processes—everything from the piping and instrument diagrams to the control valve specifications.
The program also should include site visits for formal demonstrations and equipment observations to give trainees an opportunity to get hands-on experience and help them retain what they’ve learned in the lessons. It is important that supplementary in-person course work is presented by credible instructors and plant operations engineers.
Operation training programs should touch on topics such as safety procedures, process descriptions and control. Each program should begin by communicating the program learning objectives, with the final goal being positive behavioral change. Part of establishing a CBT program is identifying the exact behavioral goals a site hopes to achieve. Is there new equipment employees should learn how to use? Or a new in-house performance review system they need to be familiar with? A plant can create a CBT course on any subject that they might deem appropriate as long as the course’s content is aligned with specific work competencies.
Identifying site needs
The CBT developers must truly know their staff to determine what behavioral changes and critical information deficiencies their education courses should address. Historical data analysis, questionnaires and surveys, as well as talking directly to employees about their training needs and wants will help develop a program that fits a site’s specific requirements and yield tangible results. Any broad differences between an employee’s current skill level and his or her desired level should be addressed and the training courses tailored in a way to help fill these knowledge gaps. It will be easier to bridge any conceptual or practical knowledge if the training courses are grouped by function and area of responsibility.
An assessment survey, based on an individual’s role, gives a comprehensive overview of employees’ skill set. By compiling the results into one document, the entire workforce’s strengths and weaknesses are put into perspective. Whether or not an individual worker is above or below average will most likely be based on their bottom-line results, organizational efficiency and personal career development.
With this information, it is easier for employees to only devote their time completing need-specific CBT. Digital learning gives the opportunity to "test out" of course sections so trainees will not waste time going through material they may already be familiar with. In fact, periodic testing and review throughout the program will help give an overall sense of whether the program is successful or not. For the program to be complete, each trainee must demonstrate their newly acquired skills. All these parts of the plant’s long-term training plan will play an important part in continuous improvement. Luckily, as the workforce and marketplace change, CBT developers can easily update the course information thanks to the convenience of digitized media.
In addition to personalized content, CBT gives trainees the freedom to complete programs in their own way and at their own pace. As in any learning course, the more difficult or complex the content, the more important it is that individuals manage their cognitive load. Employees should be responsible for establishing their daily study routine to find what works for them. If trainees can take it upon themselves to learn all that a CBT program offers, they will be much better equipped to make judgements wisely and instantaneously when they are doing their jobs.
In addition to a personalized routine and the plant’s supportive environment, the practical application (Figure 1) of what the CBT courses must offer will help trainees connect any theoretical techniques to everyday work tasks. Once new material is digested, trainees should have the opportunity to do a simulation to demonstrate new skills and use problem solving in a controlled environment. All the procedures associated with operations are important for plant permit requirements, so it is imperative that staff are fully prepared when they are on site. Once personnel move from training to the shop floor, they will not have a safety net. Spending some time in the field as part of the training routine helps put the team at ease and makes them more comfortable to solve problems as they arise.
Once operators have completed training and have demonstrated that they have mastered all learning objectives, they should be much more capable of safely carrying out their on-site duties. Trial and error is not a cost-effective learning technique and thus represents a massive opportunity expense for a site. CBT cannot replace all traditional maintenance training methods, but it can certainly act as a complement to guide staff improvement.
Although workbooks and seminars have value, online learning is the wave of the future for staff education. Even though business is universal, determining the best way to develop a team is industry-dependent and must be site-specific. Between the ability to offer online material to many employees at once to the ability and quickly update material to reflect any new developments, CBT will reduce training costs in the long run and put a plant in a more competitive position.
Jerry Wanichko is director of consulting operations for T.A. Cook North America with more than 25 years of international consulting experience.