Team learning helps operators share information while reviewing standard processes and learning best practices. Photo: Red Oak Consulting

Regular external input: A regular in-house refresher training program for important pieces of equipment can be valuable; do it easily with existing supplier relationships.

A good manufacturer's representative will make routine calls to plant management, but rather than having a general product discussion on the next sales call, ask the representative to present a lunchtime seminar on maintenance issues. He or she can point out things that would be expected to wear first or even fail as the equipment begins to age. This type of forum provides operations and maintenance (O&M) staff with the latest understanding of the equipment and allows for a sharing of information about equipment or processes between all participants (see the sidebar on O & M's).

Team learning: This training can be accomplished with the help of existing equipment O&M manuals. Many plants may have dozens of equipment O&M manuals sitting on shelves collecting dust. Reviewing key parts of important equipment manuals with the appropriate staff on a recurring, periodic basis can facilitate communications and understanding between newer and more experienced staff. It can be as simple as an operations supervisor reviewing a troubleshooting guide for a sedimentation tank with the operators in their shift, or a maintenance crew reviewing the preventive maintenance section for a compressor and discussing their experience.

Rotating through a predetermined sequence of manuals and topics using existing off-the-shelf information creates a recurring program for transferring important information among team members with little cost.

Strategically select continuing education programs: Most operators are required to complete continuing education units (CEUs) to maintain their licenses. CEUs are readily obtained at local, state, and national professional association meetings, trade schools, colleges, and universities. But be careful to select topics that have direct bearing on day-to-day work activities. Select CEU topics that directly benefit your operations staff; this is a good way to facilitate training of the newest generation of operator on topics that are important to your facility.

Manufacturer training programs also may be counted toward CEUs in some states. Inviting manufacturers to talk about your equipment might be a cost-effective way of providing operators with required CEUs while further enhancing your training program.

While these strategies for fine-tuning your in-house operations training and learning programs are not necessarily the only methods, they provide some ideas for developing a well-trained and continuously engaged staff. Getting a regular training program established is a critical part of maintaining the value and reliability of both your system and personnel assets for the long term.

— Rich Cardazone and Lance Salerno are principal consultants with Red Oak Consulting, a division of Malcolm Pirnie Inc., White Plains, N.Y.