1660329750566 Ps0406 Outsource Fig 2

Training can be outsourced, but be sure the time is right

June 10, 2004
A guide to employee development
A West Coast utility was comfortable with its strong in-house training program until a purchase made it rethink its options. The company had acquired a number of power plants, each with its own level of training, experience, policies and procedures inherited from previous owners.The company also had acquired several training programs. Management wanted a standard training program, but the staff alone couldn't provide the expertise required. It was time to stop, take a step back and find the best way to ensure that everyone had the same understanding of one set of rules, regulations and policies.A Colorado water treatment plant had an equally complex problem. Although strong in-house capabilities were available, the National Code requirements had changed. Even the training professionals needed to have their skills updated. So management decided to outsource its training.As training objectives become more complex, companies downsize, and skilled operators and technicians retire, more organizations are turning to some type of outsourcing solution to secure needed expertise.Management must decide which training programs should be in-house and which should be outsourced, while working within the constraints of existing training programs or structures, knowledge available within the company, corporate culture and budgets.
Figure 1. Roger Holder of National Technology Transfer demonstrates how to control a chiller tower. The control unit is at left; the tower is partly visible over his right shoulder.
Establishing a program
The major requirements for an effective training program include instructional expertise, appropriate hands-on training hardware, proper classroom organization and approach, and expertise in the subject matter, including regulatory compliance, safety and cross-training.The West Coast and Colorado facilities, like many Fortune 500 manufacturers, found that a combination of in-house and outsourced training was ideal in providing the needed expertise.Typically, companies use in-house training experts for day-to-day and routine training needs on existing equipment. However, for training that requires special expertise or involves new equipment or processes, outside experts may be the answer. Outsiders are also useful when there is an urgent need for a certain type of subject matter expertise, when the in-house training department needs assistance, or when a technical workforce must upgrade its skills or be cross-trained.
Figure 2. Rob Dombeck of National Technology Transfer demonstrates how to operate a variable-speed drive. The unit before him is a training module.
Instructional expertise
These are the first requirements for any effective training program. Subject matter experts and instructors determine the specific information to be transferred and the course curricula, based on field and book knowledge of the industry. The best instructors have both theoretical and practical operating experience in their field or technology.An expert instructor must also be able to convey that information effectively to others. In addition to answering questions, a good instructor provides credibility, control, facilitation and leadership in a classroom. The instructor must be able to teach in a way that permits trainees to retain knowledge so they can use it when they return to their own facilities.The ability to teach is a skill in and of itself. In one case, an actor who knew nothing about the subject was hired to teach a training course. In the next classroom, the author of the course's textbook taught the same material. Students evaluating the effectiveness of their instruction graded the actor higher because his ability to present the material exceeded that of the textbook's author.Appropriate modules
Studies indicate that students retain more about any subject when when hands-on training modules are used. Developing proper equipment modules for hands-on training requires subject matter expertise, resources, management and the time to design and manufacture safe and workable units. The hardware should simulate or duplicate conditions on the plant floor although, for safety reasons, it may operate at lower voltages or pressures. Modules should be designed so that trainees can work with hardware individually or in small groups.Classroom approachAfter acquiring subject matter expertise, skilled instructors and hands-on training modules, training managers must organize a classroom that transforms these resources into a successful training program. The first issue is the number of students in the classroom, as well as the space requirements for the hardware. Next is arranging for classrooms. Once the course developer determines the training's focus, it must be segmented into theoretical lectures and hands-on practical sessions.The instructor establishes the number and arrangement of modules for hands-on practice. It helps to prepare the classroom so that trainees can work together on the equipment modules and support one another's efforts. Trainees learn best when they train in groups of two or three. The setup must also allow instructors to monitor each trainee and answer trainees' questions.
Figure 3. Roger Holder of National Technology Transfer instructs a training class on how to troubleshoot chiller systems.
Other expertise
It's critical that plant managers plan carefully to minimize safety risks and comply with OSHA and other applicable regulations. An essential element is the knowledge required to evaluate OSHA electrical and high-voltage interpretations, as well as lockout-tagout and hot-work permit programs, to ensure compliance and best practices. If the company uses cross-training to teach electrical skills, then program managers should be well-versed in regulatory and technical requirements.Trainers also need to know applicable local or state regulations, for example, local regulations on pressure vessels and licensing of boiler and refrigeration equipment operators. It's critical that they know whether federal, state or local regulations are more stringent and how this will affect plant operations.
Figure 4. An instructor from National Technology Transfer demonstrates how to use a hydraulic training module.
Outsourced training
Subject matter and instructional expertise, hands-on modules, classroom organization know-how are available from qualified outsourcing training providers. Unless companies have solid in-house training program resources in each of these areas, they should consider working with outside experts.If outsourcing proves to be the best option, the selected provider must be right for the company's situation. Check on the providers mentioned in industry publication articles or advertisements. Ask colleagues and peers for referrals and contact training associations and industry associations perhaps by attending their shows or events.Narrow the list to the companies that you feel comfortable calling. Interview promising service providers and obtain a written description of how the trainer operates, whether it will customize courses, and how much it will cost.Ask the proposed training providers key questions. What educational background and experience does their training staff have? Do they write their own training texts, or rely on purchased materials? Will they bring hands-on training equipment modules to the training location? Can they customize courses to meet your exact needs? Will they work within your time frame, holding training classes during any shift?
Evaluating a programAfter you've done your research, selected an outsourcing partner and completed a training program, evaluate the results. The West Coast utility mentioned earlier reports a virtual elimination of electrical 'near misses' , accidents and downtime since the training. The Colorado water treatment plant reported that all employees passed the code exams. In both cases, training met its objectives and the organizations felt the training programs were successful.Pre- and post-course testing of employees is often useful for measuring training effectiveness. However, an even better method is to determine the impact training has on maintaining long-term production schedules and return on investment. Effective training should lead to a drop in downtime and lost production, reduced service calls to outside vendors and a positive return on investment. Gary Xavier is director of training at National Technology Transfer Inc. Contact him at (800) 922-2820.

Figures: National Technology Transfer Inc.

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