Workforce Development

Now you’re speaking my language: Identifying, assessing, and developing your team’s most-needed skills

In this Big Picture Interview, learn why clear, consistent communication is vital to any reliability initiative.

By Christine LaFave Grace, managing editor

Brian Dunn, CMRP, CRL, is vice president of facility maintenance and energy at Americold Logistics, a Dallas-based provider of cold-storage and supply-chain infrastructure and services. In a keynote presentation at MARCON, UT-RMC’S annual maintenance and reliability conference in Knoxville, TN, in March, Dunn discussed critical elements of creating and executing on a reliability vision. First and foremost, he said, is workforce development: identifying, assessing, and developing your team’s most-needed skills. Dunn later elaborated further in a conversation with Plant Services managing editor Christine LaFave Grace.

PS: You said, "If you don't develop your people first...you'll never get those other pieces." What has "developing your people" meant for Americold and its reliability vision?

BD: We know that we want to get into further reliability-centered maintenance; we want to get to the internet of things, to be able to deploy building insight. So it's about gaining an understanding of what are the skills that will be needed to be able to deploy and implement the things that we want to get done, as well as continuously improve. For us it (starts with) a deep-dive skills assessment; we looked at what it would take to run these systems. You look at failure rates of other people who have tried this—75% of all internet of things projects fail. You start looking at why, and a big piece of it is change management. So we realized change management is a skill our teams have to be able to have; they have to be able to adapt. They have to have great communication skills – not just the technical skills but the soft skills.

We went to partners like Nissan and went up to see what their training center looked like and do a deep dive into their training. We met with the state of Tennessee, people from multiple different colleges to see how are they preparing students for the future.

PS: How did you win support for this kind of research and workforce development effort from your executive team, so that the reaction wasn't along the lines of, "You guys are going on a field trip to look at training centers?"

BD: You just have to get a headcount for that, right? A big piece of that was sitting down, looking at the challenges that we faced in the future and being able to put that into a business case for the executives and also for the board to say, “Here are the challenges that we face for maintenance in the next 3-5 years; here’s where we want to get to.” After we get the buy-in for that, (then it’s) “Here’s our solution of how we’re going to get there; here’s our road map.” One of the pieces to that road map was we need to have an internal director for training and education whose sole goal is to train our workforce and build the skill sets that we need to be ready for the next level.

PS: What are the best practices you’ve honed for communicating with all of your internal stakeholder your reliability vision and the progress that’s being made with your road map?

BD: (It started with) getting up in monthly meetings with the regional vice president and directors of operations and sharing key pieces of where we’re going: “Here’s the work we’re going to do.”

It was a big list of stuff; it was very complex. A lot of people pushed back—“Brian, our company isn’t ready for this; we can’t do that.” What I shared with them is you have to raise the bar. Your expectations are always the lead. If we will commit to making things happen, we will do these.

Then every two months, I would go back in front all of the executives, and we would talk through that same exact list that we made with all of the checkmarks that were green to show, “We’ve begun to do these things.” As we began to do those things, they saw subtle changes in the field; maybe CapEx became a little easier; maybe they got a little more visibility into their dollars, a little bit more visibility into their downtime, a little bit more visibility into their actual costs around overtime and labor—different pieces of the puzzle. They began to see the correlation—they saw, “We need to hire more people; every opening we have is costing us more money by using outside services and overtime.”

(For the maintenance team) we added blasts of weekly emails, monthly communication newsletters, and we started bringing different departments in—internal affairs, IT, human resources, safety—writing articles in our newsletters about the work that they were doing to help us reach the goals. Then they see, too, that we’re touching multiple different areas. That’s the communication that I’ve found to be most successful—when everybody is involved in it; everybody wants to be a part of it. Once we got the momentum we needed…we weren’t just a cost center on their P&L.