Spread the word about the maintenance and reliability career

Dec. 9, 2010
Joel Leonard, contributing editor, says correct the ignorance of the reliability profession.

What’s the difference between education and training? Is there a difference, or is it merely semantics? Well, for years I’ve been trying to convey the idea that future workers need to know why things are done, not merely how. If they know the how of a particular machine or process but don’t understand the underlying physical and chemical principles, they’ll not be able to resolve equipment failures and get to root causes. More importantly, their training won’t be transferable to the latest iteration of equipment because they don’t have the depth of understanding to adapt.

Dr. Nido Qubein, the president of High Point University, put it in the most simple and understandable terms. Is there a difference between education and training? He said, “What would you want: for your kids to get sex education or sex training?”

That makes it clear. At the SMRP 2010 conference in Milwaukee, Ian McKinnon explained the difference between basic and essential skills. He asked, “What are basic skills? Fundamental, base level and rudimentary skills needed to do the job, right?”

Basic skills are being taught at community colleges and other programs all over the country, but employers such as DuPont, Miller and BP said they don’t need bodies, they need workers with essential skills.

What are essential maintenance and reliability skills? The ability, knowledge and skill needed to troubleshoot failures systematically and install proactive systems and approaches that anticipate and avoid future failures are essential, but are they being taught at the depth and volume we need? Not even close.


In the effort to upgrade maintenance and reliability processes and systems and to have consistency and appreciation from the board room to the boiler room, more efforts are underway to incorporate PAS 55, the British Standards Institution's publicly available specification for the optimized management of physical assets, into ISO certification standards. In the aftermath of coverage of the Gulf Coast crisis and more regulatory scrutiny on maintenance and reliability processes, more companies are looking at ways to standardize their performance corporate-wide. Therefore, more execs are beginning to look beyond the costs of maintenance and at the actual value contribution. But this is a serious work in progress.

These initiatives can become more than just an idea; they can become a part of the new business culture if more execs and reliability pros attend SMRP and other industry conferences. We need more executives to invest in sending the current and future staff to more of these conferences where they can learn from the pioneers of the new processes before they retire.

In the confusion of locating a meeting room at the Milwaukee Hilton, I ran into the SMRP spouses, who were waiting for a van to take them to see the local sights. Boy, did I get an education when I asked them a few questions. These are capable, interesting ladies with a thirst to learn more about our profession and how to better support reliability pros.

It would be interesting to see a future workshop for the spouses at these conferences titled, “How to Survive Being Married to a Reliability Pro.” After all, it can’t be easy, as our jobs are so technical. It’s not easy for outsiders to understand the challenges, issues and opportunities. Also, spouses wonder why we have to be on call all the time when others take vacation, why we have to work, why we put workers on swing shifts, why we don’t do a job that’s more socially revered, how we overcome the anxiety of budget cuts and downsizing, what supports are available for reliability to cope with these pressures? Those were just some of the questions I uncovered from these very caring wives. When I asked some of the conference leaders why they didn’t involve the wives in the event, they questioned the value that would have. My response was that if the wives want to come, the engineers will be there, too. What’s the value of keeping spouses in the dark?

As we know, the absence of solid information always leads to negative conclusions or suspicions. So, my hope is that more organizations will offer to teach workers, spouses and others the whys and the values of our profession. They all need to adapt to new changes and raise future generations of reliability pros to fix the problems of tomorrow before more things break.

E-mail Contributing Editor Joel Leonard at [email protected].