Coal, O&M

Generating Buzz: Three Steps to Leveraging Your Workforce

Issue 8 and Volume 110.

By Jerry Robinson, Strategic Contract Resources, LLC

Issues related to workforce development, retention and recruitment are leading power generators to think creatively about staff and how resources can best be deployed. Three areas that are gaining attention are talent identification and retention, cause and effect training and re-population and bench-strength recruiting. Strategies exist that can help address critical workforce needs.

Talent ID and Retention

Top Grading – Grading human capital assets is becoming an increasingly important way to understand how best to use existing personnel to transfer knowledge from experienced staff to freshman hires. While teaming new hires with more tenured staff is a time-tested training method, the accelerating loss of senior personnel means that training times must be condensed and improved. It’s important to ensure that freshmen hires are trained by those most capable of passing on information. That may mean removing those who are less skilled at training from the teaching system. While the most capable operators are typically chosen to mentor, the grading approach means focusing trainer selection primarily on one area: can a prospective trainer answer the “Why” questions? Those with the ability to communicate why certain procedures exist excel as trainers.

Retiree Return Program – Like a misplaced tool, retirees are too often forgotten. The retiree pool should be constantly reviewed and invited to work. That said, a different set of employment rules and employment offers must be considered. Flexible work hours, reduced schedules, split-year schedules and similar flexible employment options will help employers attract retirees.

Contracting with retirees can reduce other employment related issues: retirees are a known quantity, they come up to speed quickly, they tend to support positive working environments and, with the right hiring method, they can easily be released once their assignment is complete. Writing the proper offer letter and/or assignment contract makes these workers easily recruited, quick to production and low-management teammates. The feeling of freedom and control a retiree gains by cutting the employment relationship and forming a consulting agreement can benefit the company by offering continued access to the talent.

Cause & Effect Training

Operations Training – Control system technology gains, equipment improvements and their interaction have given production facilities the ability to add staff and assign new hires. With improved web-based training, investing in core function knowledge has become cost-effective. In-depth training to understand the processes involved (that is, beyond simple operating procedures) should be a mandate for all new hires. Such training can become the difference between keeping a facility operating and maximizing performance. Taking an operator from a rote training reaction to visualizing whole processes will lead to improved individual and facility output. The idea is to train your operators so they have a more comprehensive understanding of the plant’s systems and their interactions.

Exceptions training becomes the “next step” in advancing a new hire toward becoming a skilled employee. This means adding the ability to think through critical, emergency and production maximization events. An operator’s ability to understand the forces at work, immediately correct potentially hazardous conditions and protect lives and equipment is key a well-run facility.

Re-Population and Bench-Strength Recruiting

Intern programs represent a good way to grow bench-strength and add recruiting talent. Ongoing programs to add management and executive talent should be targeted at colleges and universities, and production-floor talent should be co-trained by trade schools and hiring organizations. In this way, potential long-term employees can be tested in actual working conditions, trained at reduced cost, easily culled if sub-par and guided toward additional training. More importantly, the best potential employees identified through an internship can be “locked up” before competitors get a chance to target the talent. Investing in “home grown” talent can produce intangible returns.

Rotating Backup/Fill-in Hiring – Each of these strategies involves taking “investment in growth” dollars and converting them into “payroll” dollars. While the easy solution may be to add payroll expense, a more realistic approach is to invest in growth. Budgeting for and then hiring multi-functional replacement workers starts to build capability. Staffing numbers should be built now to ensure that replacements are available. My firm was asked to develop a combined training and service program run by high-potential individuals. The program was intended to support a project to install, commission and operate a fleet of turbines. Our approach included hiring a team, placing them in a six-month training program shadowing senior personnel and then transitioning them into roles of full project responsibility. The client’s investment in the program was costly in the short term, but when the talent was needed they were fully trained and available. The long-term cost savings was significant. And the value of knowing that experienced workers were on staff before the build program began was immeasurable.

Author

Jerry Robinson is based in Atlanta and has 20 years experience in providing personnel to the power industry. He is President of SourceWynds Executive Search and General Manger of Strategic Contract Resources, which provides defined-term project and plant operations personnel.