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Unlocking Potential: Why Industrial Development Programs are Essential

In the heyday of American industry, robust in-house developmental programs were the backbone of workforce excellence. These initiatives, encompassing apprenticeships, mentorship, and collaboration with educational institutions, sculpted skilled and adept professionals.

They were more than mere checkboxes; they were strategic investments in talent.

However, as business landscapes evolved, long-term developmental strategies took a backseat to short-term gains and corporate trends. Many organizations sidelined or scaled down these programs, underestimating the depth of technical expertise required for safe
and efficient operations. The result? A decline in skill levels across critical roles like Instrumentation, Controls, Electrical, and Control Room Operators.

In today's industrial plants, the ramifications of this neglect are stark. Personnel lacking comprehensive understanding of their craft often fail to identify procedural errors or respond to field anomalies, leading to safety hazards, equipment damage, and operational inefficiencies.
Yet, the gravity of this issue often goes unnoticed until a major incident triggers an investigation.

The looming retirement wave exacerbates the skills gap, with fewer and fewer successors being adequately groomed to fill the void. While some companies recognize the impending crisis, ad hoc measures like brief mentorship stints with experienced staff fall short of cultivating the caliber of talent required to not only fill the shoes of those who are leaving, but to also help lead and properly train the next generation. 

Strategic developmental programs should provide clear, detailed expectations for each role, and these expectations should serve as a center-point for guiding recruitment, training, promotions, and competency assessments. In many organizations, the craft/role expectations are vague, generic, or non-descript. Often times, different departments will create and use their own craft expectations & standards which reduces efficiency and causes frustration and headaches for all involved. 

Central to the solution is clarity (along with adequate granular detail). The expectations are the skills & ability targets of your personnel, and if those targets are unclear or poorly defined, the outcomes will vary and likely be minimal. 

To create a clear, detailed craft expectations, you will need to lean on highly skilled individuals from the craft with both technical prowess and instructional acumen to craft role-specific expectations and competency frameworks.

The mentors, trainers, and those charged with establishing and ensuring the craft expectations should be individuals who are known and verified to be strong in their fields (ideally with applicable education, credentials, and experience). These individuals should also be familiar with the teaching & learning processes. 

For companies fortunate enough to retain experienced talent, the imperative is clear: leverage their expertise to formulate robust developmental pathways and facilitate knowledge transfer before it's too late.

To preempt the impending crisis, here's a basic roadmap for organizational action:

1) Identify individuals with relevant credentials and expertise, vetted by industry peers.

2) Charge selected high-level personnel with identifying a comprehensive list of the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) for each role. This should be done very systematically and should serve as the center-point of all developmental & skills related activities. In short, this typically consists of the following:

    • Create a generic TOPICAL GUIDE to aid in the iterative process of developing the detailed information for each skill area. This serves as a guide for each designated skill area to help developers capture the important competencies and helps build consistency and structure into the program.
      • Examples of items on the topical guide include:
        • Purpose
        • Principles of operation
        • Associated concepts and principles
        • Specific associated technologies
        • Associated tools & equipment
        • Typical maintenance tasks
        • Associated standards, policies, and regulations
        • Specific risks and potential hazards, etc.
        • and more...
    • Identify the craft specific SKILL AREAS. These typically include:
      • Major equipment & devices
      • Major systems
      • Physical craft skills (Fittings, tubing, conduit, etc.)
      • Core fundamentals - List each fundamental area. Many fundamentals will apply to multiple craft skill areas  (Examples: Basic math; Electricity; Craft specific tools, etc.)
        • Note - Coverage of fundamentals is usually inadequate (or missing) from most industrial competency and training programs, and ironically it is nearly always the root cause of most competency related problems. Do not assume someone knows the basics just because they should. 

3) Iteratively apply the TOPICAL GUIDE to each craft SKILL AREA to develop clear, appropriately granular expectation for role-specific knowledge, skill, & abilities. (KSA's).

Once the expectations are defined, and reviewed, they should be published and utilized by all parts of the organization. Frequent reviews and the ability to update the standards is also important to ensure accuracy and efficacy of the program. 

Those organizations who develop structured, accurately targeted developmental programs, can fortify their workforce for the challenges ahead, ensuring safety, reliability, efficiency, and longevity in an ever-evolving industrial landscape.

Mike Glass

About the author

Mike Glass

Mike Glass is an ISA Certified Automation Professional (CAP) and a Master Certified Control System Technician (CCST III). Mike has 38 years of experience in the I&C industry performing a mix of startups, field service and troubleshooting, controls integration and programming, tuning & optimization services, and general I&C consulting, as well as providing technical training and a variety of skills-related solutions to customers across North America.

Mike can be reached directly via [email protected] or by phone at (208) 715-1590.