The Handoff That Pays Off

Outsource your training initiatives and boost your bottom line.

Most companies know how tough it can be to develop, deliver and maintain training programs. They know training is a critical element of any company's operations because it allows the company to maintain safety standards, implement new technologies and educate new employees. The challenge is how to provide cost-effective training when the priority is managing day-to-day operations.

Companies face many issues such as identifying specific training needs, developing and delivering training programs, and measuring their effectiveness. Additionally, companies need the right policies and procedures to sustain the benefits of training and ensure consistent operations.

Workforce performance professionals leverage their industry-wide expertise to develop customized methods and processes to help companies manage protocol, increase operational efficiency and improve safety. By outsourcing these services, companies can achieve higher productivity and success while improving their bottom line because it frees them and their employees to focus on what they do best -– their jobs.

And they can outsource affordably. Cost variabilization allows companies to only pay for what they need when they need it by tapping into specialized performance and training expertise. Smaller companies can get more robust training support for a fraction of the cost, while larger companies can get help with unique projects.

Reaping the Benefits
According to the Outsourcing Institute, some of the top reasons for outsourcing are to:

  • Reduce and control operating costs
  • Improve company focus
  • Gain access to world-class capabilities
  • Free internal resources for other purposes
  • Supplement internal resources
  • Accelerate reengineering benefits

By outsourcing training, companies eliminate the challenges of managing this function internally. Those challenges include:

  • Expertise. Employees may be subject matter experts but they are not well-equipped to design and deliver effective training geared to adult learning.
  • Time. Employees must focus on their jobs and are not always able to dedicate time to create or manage well-designed training programs.
  • Performance. Employees don't always have the opportunity to develop their skills and may not be qualified to manage training programs.

All three can impact the bottom line by increasing operational expenses. In many cases, it is cost prohibitive to create an internal training department that can handle all of a company's training needs and it would not be cost-effective to employ certain learning specialists full-time.

Outsourcing often is the most cost-effective way to address training. Whether a company needs a comprehensive training program or a one-time project, workforce performance professionals offer the most up-to-date solutions. For example, TDS helped a refinery client shorten qualification time through operator training, which increased productivity and saved money on overtime costs. Another TDS client, a specialty chemical company, saw specific improvement in its front-line supervisory leadership after attending a custom-designed program.

Better by Design
The best training programs are designed to meet the specific needs of refineries and plant operators. They begin with a thorough needs assessment that identifies issues and sets goals, providing the framework for a plan. The design, development, management and delivery of a successful program are time- and resource-intensive, which is why in-house training departments are not always feasible or cost-effective.

Professionals with expertise in human performance and adult learning are best suited to create and manage training programs. They consider factors such as attention span, differences in learning styles and generational knowledge gaps before designing training modules to teach a variety of skills. And they teach in ways that are targeted to the learner, including traditional classrooms, online, with simulators and on the job.

Workforce development specialists have the tools to assess an employee's foundational knowledge and retention of material, and to determine if they attained the skills necessary to perform a specific job. They have the expertise to look across an industry and identify key factors to deliver the best training. They provide accountability by establishing specific goals and metrics for a program, and then they monitor for success.

Outsourcing workforce training can be especially important for petrochemical and refining companies that are undergoing rapid change; have multiple new operators coming onboard; or its employees are more mobile and transient. For example, new players, such as shale gas companies, set up drilling facilities and move on to different locations. They typically deal with less experienced employees and have little time or physical space for training. And smaller companies might not have processes in place to ensure they are operating safely and adhering to regulations. Employees “left behind” to maintain the facilities and troubleshoot can instantly gain support from outside professionals who can quickly bring new plant workers up to speed. This allows companies to focus on exploration, production and other core competencies such as refining. For example, TDS assisted a refinery with successfully passing an audit. The client also was deemed "best in class" for its operator training system.

Being Prepared is the Best Policy
Even with a well-trained workforce, companies cannot achieve operational excellence without the right policies and procedures that promote standardization and uniform processes to increase safety, productivity, compliance and operational efficiency. With these tools, employees can identify and correct problems more quickly, which ultimately benefits the bottom line.

Plant employees often are overworked and do not have enough time or expertise to develop the best procedures and policies, which can lead to problems. Procedures can be inconsistent and differ from location to location, or even shift to shift and in many instances, policies to enforce procedures are inadequate or non-existent. Even with procedures in place, they are not always clearly written, which makes it difficult for employees to quickly locate the information they need. Additionally, companies operating multiple facilities often create new sets of procedures each time they open a plant. Employees moving from one facility to another require more time to adapt to the different procedures, which creates a risk of incidents and diminishes productivity. Limited involvement of engineers can create gaps, as operators have limited technical knowledge or experience. Another problem is there might be too little or too much information in the procedures. As a result, employees don’t use them because they are inadequate or too tedious to follow.

As previously mentioned, the natural gas industry is experiencing its "gold rush." As the industry continues to develop, companies will have to create additional operations and safety protocols, procedures and standards - sometimes under time pressure and without much experience or expertise.

The best approach to procedure development begins with a quantitative audit to identify crucial unit operations procedures. A gap analysis is performed to compare current measures to industry best practices and OSHA standards. If no procedures exist, the next step is to create effective, specific and clearly written actions that can be safely, consistently and repeatedly applied. Then recommendations are developed to determine if and which updates should be made to current procedures to increase safety, compliance and efficiency. The final step is to train all relevant employees. Procedures should be kept up to date by tracking their effectiveness and making ongoing adjustments.

Policies play a critical role in the management and enforcement of procedures. Similar to procedure development, workforce performance professionals use their broad industry knowledge and provide an independent perspective on how well existing policies reinforce the use of procedures and how well those policies work across a company's locations.

Outsourcing training and procedures and policy creation makes economic sense. Workforce performance professionals have the subject matter expertise and experience in training, organizational psychology, professional development, adult learning, instructional systems design and more. They offer objective analysis of training and procedure needs and provide customized solutions that allow companies to achieve maximum productivity and safety, while saving time and money.

This article originally appeared in the December 2012 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Robin Knowles, president and CEO of Houston-based TDS (www.tdshou.com/), has more than 15 years of experience in the petrochemical industry, including operations management and safety performance. While working at a chemical plant early in her career, she gained a tremendous sense of the importance of safety and work integrity. She quickly moved into a leadership role and realized just how much people and performance affect goals, productivity, and morale.

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