Plugging the skills gap: why now is a critical time to invest in learning

4 September, 2020 by Add Energy

With an increasing number of knowledgeable and skilled people leaving the energy industry, and less experienced people stepping into managerial positions, there is a growing skills gap emerging across the globe that is brewing the perfect storm.

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This can only be overcome by maintaining and developing in-house competencies through learning, to ensure teams are fully equipped and confident to execute their jobs accurately, efficiently and independently - and avoid costly mistakes.

Mike Meen, Learning Delivery Lead at Add Energy, believes this is a crucial time for energy companies to be investing in learning, but is also aware of the stigma learning faces - with many people believing it is not a priority, or is a costly, unnecessary exercise amid a cost conscious environment. 

In this blog post, he shares insights around why a tailored and well thought out learning program can bring incredible value to a business, and shares tips for getting started...

The perfect storm; why is it crucial to invest in learning right now?

“A lack of training and development in the energy industry is not a new problem, but has perhaps only become apparent recently. As the next generation of young engineers begin to take on more important roles, and the older and more experienced engineers begin to retire, a lack of knowledge can be easily observed. Here we can see a perfect storm beginning to occur, and there are two main factors at play.

“Firsty is the training gap. Many younger professionals have lacked training due to the uncertainty of the industry over the last decade, and this is particularly prevalent right now with the pause in most training courses due to the pandemic. This gap isn’t just assumed, it has been recognised by HSE and regulatory authorities globally. On the surface, these people may seem knowledgeable on the job, but they may not know what to do when something goes wrong, and this is a problem. 

“The second issue is the lack of experience. When looking at the energy industry age profile, it highlights that there are two age spikes: the retirement age and professionals in their thirties and forties. The younger bracket of people have not experienced major incidents, or been involved in large projects, such as building brand new assets, like the generation before them. And it’s this type of knowledge and skill that is disappearing from our industry. 

“Minor issues caused by a lack of knowledge or skill can snowball into major problems, so it’s vital that people understand the competencies in their teams, and identify gaps that need to be filled or skills that need to be enhanced. A knowledgeable eye can walk onto a site and know instantly if it is being well managed or not, by identifying subtle signs or wrong behaviours, and are able to nip them in the bud to stop these issues escalating.”

Why the right learning is important:

“Effective learning can maintain the level of skill within your team, but it can also enhance and evolve skills to enable people to progress into more senior roles.

“I like to think of learning as a spectrum, with three key stages:

  • Awareness: you are able to recognise the subject and have some sort of conversation and opinion on it.
  • Knowledge: you are educated on the subject, could sit an exam about it and can put it into practice 
  • Skill: you are able to apply your knowledge fully and successfully. 

“What is important to understand is that skill and even knowledge will decay over time if they are not revisited or refreshed. Bad habits can form, shortcuts can become the norm and less effort can be applied to routine work if not picked up on by supervisors. This becomes a catalyst for bad behaviour, incompetency and, in the worst case scenario, mistakes or incidents.  

“There are two types of learning: maintenance and development. Maintaining knowledge and skills is the base layer - it’s about having a system and events in place that refresh and recalibrate, to iron out any complacency and ensure accurate delivery of work. Many companies are guilty of putting staff on repeat courses as a simple fix, but as these are not tailored to meet the specific requirement, this may not be the optimal solution. It may be a simple refresher that’s required, and this could be done by the supervisor on the job.

“Development, on the other hand, is about enhancing and evolving skills to progress and take on more responsibility. This requires a deeper level of training course that is specifically designed for that role or requirement.”

Tips for designing the optimal learning and development plan for your team:

Understand the competencies in your team

“The first step is understanding what competencies you have in your team, and what is required for your team to operate efficiently and effectively. It’s also important to understand what could go wrong if competency was lost - what is the chain effect of work being done to a lower standard?

“The second step is taking accountability for your team. Understand what your people are actually doing, and be vigilant and alert. If they’re not doing something correctly, it’s your responsibility to ensure they’re coached and mentored, to ensure they don’t hurt themselves or others around them. This could be as simple as ensuring supervisors are doing regular walk rounds. 

“The biggest piece of advice I can give is to take an interest in your team, and their competency levels. Monitor their learning programmes, and take action early to avoid issues in the future. If leaders and organisations did this, we would avoid so many of the problems we see today. 

“If you need help getting started, we can help you to conduct a competency audit and provide a framework to guide you through this process.”

Design and delivery of learning events

“If you need to enhance the competency of your team, there are a huge range of courses available. By using your audit, you’ll be able to identify important gaps and therefore select the best courses specifically suited to your needs.

“It’s important to ask yourself what you are trying to achieve, and what the learning objectives are before you start. Why are you putting someone on a course? Do they need a full course or a quick refresher?

“Training courses need to be tailored appropriately to ensure your staff and your team get maximum value.”

Introducing The Add Energy Academy:

“The Add Energy Academy has been designed to enhance knowledge and skills, ensure compliance and enable asset stakeholders to be confident work will be delivered safely, efficiently and effectively. 

“Our range of courses can be moulded to your specific needs and desired learning objectives, and are suitable for various levels in an organisation - from front line workers to leadership.

“Our training topics include:

  • Process safety
  • Asset management
  • Maintenance management
  • Asset integrity management
  • Maintenance work execution
  • CMMS utilization
  • Operations management
  • Contingency management and planning
  • HSEQ management
  • Well integrity

Click here to learn more about The Add Energy Academy

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