The most missed component in training — understanding

Posted by on Jan 2, 2014 in Training | 0 comments

Most training programs teach the basic knowledge required to do the job. Students are basically put in a classroom where someone pontificates on the benefits of whatever piece of equipment is being reviewed, the design of the system and what it does, and the basics of how to start it up, shut it down, and make operational adjustments.

A good training program provides time to learn the skills to do the job. Students are required to work in a lab-type environment or given on-the-job training. They get to work with and actually operate the system or use a simulator. They are taught procedure, encouraged to ask questions and, more importantly, given time to practice and perfect new skills.

A great training program goes to an entirely different level, giving students an opportunity to understand why things operate the way they do. The instruction incorporates an understanding of the design, including the physics or chemistry of the process. Students are taught what makes the equipment or system effective and efficient, how it is affected by changes in the environment, and the concepts behind the operational parameters that affect safety.

Understanding enhances reliability

In-depth training that provides a complete picture of “why” helps students understand and decipher system reactions. Individuals that are given this type of training can determine when processes are successful. Their knowledge enables them to go beyond mere diagnosis as to whether a piece of equipment is running or not; they can actually troubleshoot and make adjustments to maximize performance and reliability. Because they understand how systems are designed and what makes them work, they are more likely to “catch things” before a system begins to fail. In essence, they become a vital part of system reliability.

Understanding vs. ignorance – the cost of failure

Training at this level is expensive and time-consuming, a fact that drives training programs to concentrate on the first two components of basic knowledge and skill (the parts that make it seem like people “know” their jobs). In reality, they may be able to accomplish the tasks, but very often their limited understanding makes them ineffective at preventing failures. In fact, incomplete understanding of the design and science behind what is supposed to happen in systems can cause people to respond incorrectly to abnormal or unusual situations, as we saw with the Three Mile Island, Bhopal, and Challenger disasters. And while other factors figured prominently in each tragic event, the lack of operator understanding was determined to be a major contributing factor in each case.

It is difficult to establish a return on investment (ROI) for training, but you can normally place some type of value on downtime or failure based upon the criticality of your operations and the cost of failure. (In “The maintenance we miss,” I discuss how training should be funded.) It is clear that understanding in mission-critical environments is required for successful operations, yet it is the missing component in most training programs.

I cannot tell you that with proper training you will always be able to avoid failure; but I can tell you that without this level of training you will have failures. If failure is truly not an option, is there any choice other than to incorporate understanding into your mission-critical training programs?

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