I recently had the opportunity to make a first visit to a new client’s site. As you would expect, upon arrival I was required to attend the contractor/vendor safety orientation training before I could be set loose in the site facilities. This client site was in the Deep South, and our instructor for the training was the site safety coordinator, a local gentleman who had been employed in or around the area all his life. With his Southern drawl, he said everything about three times. (I could never quite figure out if he wanted to make sure we “got it,” or if he just liked saying everything at least three times.) I recall that the training was very good and to the point, and everyone in the training session was fully aware of all the safety rules and all the potential hazards of the site.

Why was this safety orientation training required by the client site? First, there is an OSHA requirement that everyone be trained in the real and potential hazards of the site before they can be allowed into the site. Second, and more importantly, statistics show that the overall number of workplace injuries and deaths has decreased significantly since we started putting more focus on workplace safety and injury prevention. Basically, the training we receive makes us more aware and more careful in the workplace.

Businesses today are consumed with demands from shareholders and owners to decrease costs while making more products at a higher profit. You can decrease costs in many ways, but most people realize that you cannot cut your way to prosperity. Whatever you might cut out of your budget today in many cases will have to be replaced in kind at some point in the future. I have seen too many examples of cost-cutting where the first thing to go is people. The second is training, and the third is investment in proper maintenance of assets.

We want our businesses to be profitable, and to do that our assets must be reliable. Every operating asset must operate as designed for the period we schedule it to run without failure. We can spend money to replace, upgrade, repair or otherwise make our assets reliable, but without the expertise to keep them in that reliable condition, we are in a never-ending cycle of “run, fix, run, fix” until there is no life remaining in the assets or the people. If our operators and maintenance people are not doing the right things at the right time, our reliability surely will suffer.

One thing you can do to get out of this cycle is to make sure your maintenance and operations employees have the knowledge and can get the experience needed to sustain your assets at a high level of reliability. You can decide to train your people in-house, using experienced craftsmen and operators as trainers. This can work very well, assuming that you have made the right choices in the teachers/mentors/coaches you assign to your new employees. If the people you select as teachers have learned any bad habits during their tenure, they may pass along those bad habits to the new people. If the teacher has not been able to keep up to date on advances in technology and tools, there will be something lacking in the training they pass along. After carefully analyzing the current level of expertise in your organization, you may determine that you need outside help in training your people.

Outside training help can come from any number of resources available in the immediate area of your business. There are technical schools and colleges, factory schools, traveling training and seminars, local vendors or dedicated professional training providers such as the Life Cycle Institute. In an active training environment, using tools such as learning impact maps, your employees can learn the latest in technology and approaches to proper operation and maintenance of plant assets, what to look for, what tools may be used to detect potential problems and, most importantly, why you should be proactive in your approach to reliability of your assets. If your employees know what to do, how to do it and why it is important to do it right the first time, you can more easily achieve the goals of reducing costs to operate and improve your throughput and profit.

Reliability of our assets depends upon the correct operation and maintenance of those assets, as well as our ability to repeat these practices on a daily basis to sustain a high level of reliability. Giving your employees knowledge, experience and an understanding of the value that training brings to the business puts you in a position to gain more market share. It’s easy to see which of your competitors are doing this most effectively. They are the ones at the top of the market share, and they will remain there as long as they can keep their people and their assets operating at a high level of reliability.

When your business is not operating as profitably as you need it to, ask “What can we do to get better?” Constantly analyze your business to determine where you can improve and get an edge on the competition. One of your first questions to ask should be, “Are our people doing the right things for the right reasons?” Training your people to become better, smarter operators and maintenance people should not be discounted in your analysis. In fact, it should be right at the top of your list. Long-term reliability and improved market share depend upon it.

About the Author

Bob Call is a principal consultant with Life Cycle Engineering Inc. Bob has more than 25 years of experience in maintenance and reliability with a strong background in reliability process development and implementation. He has helped many organizations transform their business and culture into a proactive and continuously improving operation, ensuring sustainability and increased market competitiveness. You can contact Bob at bcall@LCE.com.