Career Long Learning Can Improve Your Asset Management Function

Career-long learning can improve your asset management function

Oct. 9, 2023
David Berger says make your training budget go farther, from maintainer-operator cross training to advanced skills certifications.

Career-long learning in asset management can take many forms, all of which are important at some point in one’s career. Companies have shown over the years that a steady investment in learning / training throughout the career of all employees engaged in asset management has resulted in significant improvement to asset management effectiveness.

Although difficult to measure, multiple measures can be used to track the impact of your learning program in order to calculate and manage to a reasonable budget. Examples of measures that can be used to correlate learning with results are as follows:

  • dollars spent on learning (total, per position, per person)
  • number of courses or course hours taken (per person)
  • training plan vs. actual (total and per person)
  • skills acquired (through test scores)
  • learning impact (e.g.,  number of problems resolved, number of ideas acted on, savings resulting from training, customer satisfaction before vs. after training)
  • number of cross-trained employees per area or team.

Described below are some of the more critical areas where learning can improve your asset management function.

Asset management systems. There are at least two types of training available from most CMMS/EAM system vendors: training on how to use their software, and maintenance management procedural training. In theory, if the CMMS/EAM systems package is intuitively easy to learn and use, then a minimal amount of training is required.

As usual, industry has created a buzzword – "usability" or “user-centred design” – to describe the field of study related to how intuitive a package is for users. Users expect a consistent look and feel throughout the package, minimal clutter, and meaningful graphics. User-centred design of the package is greatly enhanced by navigation aids such as look-ups, pop-ups, pull-downs, folder tabs, hot key links, and drill-down capability. Usability can also refer to the consistency and simplicity of the package. For companies that require heavy data entry, it is especially important that screens are easy to use.

Despite the ease of use of many top-end packages, there still is a minimal learning curve. Thus, to accommodate new or occasional users of the software, most CMMS/EAM system vendors ship software with a complete online help facility. "Context-sensitive" help is especially useful in that it knows where you are in the program and provides help for that field, function, screen or procedure.

Once you are in the help facility, the better packages provide such features as the ability to add text to the help or help index, extensive use of examples, and bookmarking so that you can come back to a marked help screen. Procedural help is available on many packages for explaining how to complete a work order, year-end procedures, ordering parts, and so on. Sometimes process flow charts are provided in graphical form that show the actual workflow. In a few higher-end packages this workflow can be automated.

The amount of classroom or web-based learning required for day-to-day functionality is minimal – a few days for all but the advanced users, assuming a good quality system. However, it is highly likely that more training will be required for a new system implementation or major upgrade. Furthermore, because CMMS vendors or asset management consultants have worked with so many different users, they can provide valuable training on how best to use the software to meet the specific needs of your environment. This training can be several weeks long depending on the size, complexity and knowledge base of the asset management and operations departments.

Asset management processes. As a bare minimum, learning for maintainers must include standard operating procedures, including those involving the CMMS/EAM system. Equipment vendors usually supply procedure manuals, on-site and off-site instruction, and/or training videos. On-the-job learning and in-house videos are a popular means of supplementing the training supplied by vendors.

People management training. Learning for front-line supervisors and middle management in the asset management area is sadly lacking. Companies must realize that for most people, supervisory skills cannot be learned solely on the job. Progressive companies send new supervisors on 150-200+ hours of mandatory training in just the first year. Advanced and refresher courses are required in subsequent years.

Apprentice, co-op and internship programs. It always troubles me to hear asset managers talk about how effective the European system of apprenticeship is, and how much better trained European tradespeople are. Why then has North America not fully embraced this approach if it is so clearly superior? It will take concerted effort by management, labor, government, and educational institutions to bring about improvements to the current system. A career in asset management must be made more attractive if we are to satisfy the growing demand for skilled trades, especially in the area of electro-mechanics, robotics, machine learning, and other technology-led areas.

Competency-based learning. Many companies have established a hierarchy of skill and experience levels for each trade, to encourage tradespeople to upgrade their skills and competencies on the job. For example, for mechanics there may be three grades (A, B, C) and three levels (1, 2, 3) within each grade. Each level increase may result in, say, a $1.00 increase in hourly wage as a result of greater skill and competencies gained through learning. Additionally, people may switch from other areas, such as a C-1 mechanic from operations who joins the maintenance department after showing an interest and an aptitude toward electro-mechanics. Some companies have prepared theoretical and practical tests for this purpose.

Advanced learning. Many companies will pay for an employee to take courses toward a work-related formal designation, certification, or license. This makes good business sense, since employees are willing to upgrade themselves on their own time, for the benefit of themselves and the company.

Cross-functional learning. Multi-skilled tradespeople are valuable resources. A mechanic who also has welding papers, for example, is far more valuable than either a straight welder or mechanic. Where possible, make use of internal resources to teach fellow tradespeople. Local colleges also are usually happy to set up courses at your site. Colleges will provide a train-the-trainer program and/or train the employees themselves. Of prime importance in ensuring the success of a cross-training program is providing incentives to employees who participate, the most important of which is ensuring ample opportunity to use the newly acquired skills. Otherwise, employees will most likely go elsewhere.

Cross-departmental learning. Although most employees and employers are in agreement on the virtues of cross-functional learning, the same cannot be said for cross-departmental learning. Some companies have invested thousands of dollars for rotation programs that move tradespeople from one department to another. In theory, cross-departmental learning gives a company greater flexibility. In practice, however, people tend to forget cross-skills if they are not continuously using them.

Maintainer / operator cross-training. The steady greying of lines between these two areas provides huge potential for companies. Some companies have achieved more than a 20 percent reduction in maintainers as a result of transferring responsibility to operators for inspections, lubrication, set-ups, changeovers, and minor repairs. Savings stem from better care of equipment by operations, leading to less downtime and a decreased need for highly-skilled trades. Some asset-intensive companies and even whole industries have evolved to the point that there is no distinction made between maintainers and operators—it is a single maintainer/operator position.

Health, safety, and the environment (HSE). Without exception, this area has the highest priority for learning throughout one’s career. Unlike some of the other areas, HSE learning applies to both management and workers on a regular basis, regardless of their level of experience. Operations management and front-line employees must learn how to respond to, and more importantly, prevent hazardous situations.

About the Author

David Berger | P.Eng. (AB), MBA, president of The Lamus Group Inc.

David Berger, P.Eng. (AB), MBA, is president of The Lamus Group Inc., a consulting firm that provides advice and training to extract maximum performance, quality and value from your physical assets, processes, information systems and organizational design. Based in Toronto, Berger has held senior positions in industry, including for two large manufacturers, and senior roles in consulting. He has written more than 450 articles on a variety of topics such as asset management, operations management, information technology, e-commerce, organizational design, and strategy. Contact him at [email protected].