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North American Oil & Gas Pipelines: Assessing Best Practices in the Energy Industry

In 2017, Mosaic conducted a North American benchmark study to assess field operations training gaps and best practices in the energy industry. The core purpose of an energy company’s training organization is to develop a skilled and high-performing workforce in the most cost-efficient and effective way possible. Improving safety, optimizing business performance, ensuring compliance, and maximizing stakeholder value are at the forefront of corporate strategy, and the top training organizations are finding ways to maximize workforce potential in alignment with these goals.

The State of the Industry

Operations training is critically important to the energy industry due to the high risk and danger of work being performed, both to employees and to the public. And the unprecedented level of change facing the industry is requiring a shift in the way companies approach training.

  • It is estimated that anywhere between 30 to 50 percent of the industry’s employees are nearing retirement age, and millennials are already beginning to make up larger percentages of the workforce with many starting their climb into supervisor and management roles.
  • At the same time, technological advances are changing the way employees do work at unforeseen rates, creating more job complexity.
  • And the high degree of regulation and oversight is continuing to increase scrutiny and financial exposure.

The Benchmark Study

The intent of Mosaic’s benchmark study was to uncover best practices around field operations training at the leading energy and utility companies in North America. Thirty-six energy and utility companies participated in a thorough interview process, covering topics from governance and measurement to training development and delivery and the use of technology in training.

All participating companies indicated that the importance of building a competent workforce is becoming increasingly critical, as is the importance of effective operations training. However, only 16 percent of participating training leaders reported being able to perform at a level that matches this criticality. The fact that companies recognize the significance of a competent workforce while failing to adequately invest in the training required to achieve that goal, is a serious gap compared to other industries.

Key Excerpts from Findings

Many companies are making significant strides in the following areas compared to peers, enabling them to elevate their field operations training programs and achieve enhanced business results:

  1. Gaining strong and consistent executive sponsorship. As a support service to the primary business of producing and delivering energy, training organizations define their relevance and success based on their ability to contribute to the larger priorities and goals of the organization they work within. To stay consistently aligned with the needs of the business, there must be strong and consistent sponsorship of training at the executive level. Whether it’s through formal governance processes or informal relationships with senior leaders, training’s number one priority must be to champion for this commitment, and to consistently demonstrate training’s value to the business in terms that will be understood and accepted by company leaders.It was a consistent finding throughout the benchmark study that without strong and consistent executive sponsorship, training efforts will be deprioritized and undervalued regardless of program quality. One participating gas utility’s executive vice president of operations brings all his leaders together for an annual summit where that training organization outlines training programs and priorities for the year. This event is tremendously important to the business’ investment in training because a senior leader stands in front of his entire operations team and lets them know that he expects their support and commitment (for training) every day of the year.
  2. Measuring training effectiveness in terms of business value. Training leaders that are producing and communicating measurable business improvements are receiving significantly increased support for training from senior leadership and the internal business organizations they support. Measuring training effectiveness through business outcomes helps shift organizations from looking at training as an expense towards valuing it as a strategic investment that enables field employees to become safer and more productive in a shorter amount of time and throughout their careers. One participating midstream pipeline company utilizes a speed-to-competence model to measure the return-on-investment (ROI) from training. They used baseline data from the field by calculating the non-productive time of new hires before implementing their new training program. Recent post-training calculations demonstrated an ROI of over 15 percent. This metric demonstrates that a well-executed training program can directly benefit bottom-line financial results by increasing productivity earlier in a field worker’s career.
  3. Developing and delivering competency-based training. For companies focused primarily on compliance, training is just a means to an end. Providing the minimum amount of training and checking a box for qualification is accepted as “good enough.” However, compliance-based training often results in “qualified” employees working in the field with insufficient preparation to accurately or safely complete required tasks per company business processes or work procedures. In comparison, competency-based training programs follow frameworks that define the exact skills and tasks field operations roles need based on the specific work they will be expected to do over the course of their careers. These frameworks clearly map how and when an employee will learn job-critical skills over their development life cycle — from new hire training through assessments, structured on-the-job training, refresher training, and more.Companies that have moved from compliance- to competency-based training are experiencing faster time to both proficiency and qualification, resulting in a more skilled and effective workforce and increased confidence from business leaders that field operations employees are equipped to do their work safely, efficiently, and in compliance. For companies where training is designed as a development life cycle encompassing an employee’s entire career, not as a single event, it has made all the difference in program effectiveness and business value.
  4. Using technology to decrease delivery costs and increase the speed to competence. Easy-to-use and low-cost technology solutions are proving to provide impactful business value by decreasing the cost of training delivery and providing critical performance support tools. Simple training technologies enable companies to embrace the more technologically savvy and less tenured millennial workforce by equipping them with must-have knowledge and hands-on practice of skills as part of their training experience and then providing support tools to reinforce and elevate their performance where they need it most — on the job. The most appropriate and impactful technology solutions will likely look different depending on the company. Geographic reach, rural vs. urban environment, and the number of field employees are all factors that must be considered. The key is to address actual business needs in determining which technologies to invest in, rather than chasing the shiniest or trendiest new thing. Focus on speed, efficiency, and cost savings, and then identify your top priorities to drive the highest business value.An increasing number of companies are utilizing employee-created, YouTube-like videos for micro-learnings, and demonstrations of the application of critical skills. These types of solutions are much easier to put into place than more sophisticated technologies such as virtual reality and have the capability to provide a high degree of impact very quickly.
  5. Balancing the investment in training across facilities, instructors, and curriculum. Far and away, the most effective training organizations balance the investment across dedicated training facilities, effective instructor facilitation, and competency-based training curriculum. Most companies are moving in the right direction with training delivery — they are making substantial investments in both training facilities and delivery resources. However, many companies are not prioritizing the investment required to build a strong foundation for these delivery mechanisms to support. And even the best training delivery strategy and tools will only be minimally effective without effective training program design and curriculum. A balanced combination of all three — curriculum, facilities, and instructors — set high standards for competence by ensuring that training is consistently and effectively implemented.
    • Companies that use dedicated instructional design resources have stronger training programs that provide more business value compared to companies that use instructors and other subject-matter experts to develop training.
    • Investing in dedicated training facilities that enable employees to learn and practice tasks on equipment they encounter in the field under close-to-actual working conditions improves the quality and consistency of training delivery, and reduces the variation in how tasks and procedures are performed in the field.
    • Most participating companies recruit instructors from the field to provide the expertise and credibility necessary for the effective delivery of technical training. The highest performing training organizations have created instructor development programs to enhance an instructor’s technical knowledge, facilitation skills, and familiarity with adult learning strategies.
    • Training organizations that utilize either internal instructional designers or external training experts are experiencing increased training program consistency, quality and effectiveness, and the effective use of innovation to reduce the time spent in formal classroom training and improve the transfer of knowledge back to the job.