Many power generating facilities lack training of new personnel, up-to-date procedures, and true preventative and predictive maintenance protocols. Several companies may be unprepared to answer the question of what will happen when their seasoned veterans walk out the door and hand the reigns over to a new, less-experienced operator. Plant managers and owners understand their personnel will retire soon, but fail to realize knowledge will also leave with those employees. A majority of utility companies and generating facilities have neither prioritized the transferal of knowledge and skills to the new generation nor updated their plants to digital platforms.
The Problem of an Aging Workforce
One third of all baby boomers have hit retirement age. Consequently, the power market is due for a large generational shift. This will result in loss of invaluable industry knowledge. According to the Department of Labor, 50 percent of the utility workforce will be retired within 10 years with almost 45 percent of the non-nuclear generation technicians currently above 53 years of age. A survey conducted by the Center for Energy Workforce Development states: “The non-nuclear generation workforce, specifically Operators and Technicians, show the largest number of employees still eligible to retire...The results clearly reflect a need to put more emphasis on skilled technician and engineering positions.” Not only who is going to replace veteran baby boomer but also how do you gain their technological expertise? Will younger staff be able to retain their knowledge through word of mouth and continue to build on it? According to a report from PWC, “The growing number of retirement-eligible employees, rising turnover costs and the generational shift in utility personnel are driving a loss of productivity in the power sector. Traditional ‘word-of-mouth,’ on-the-job training of utility workers is not sustainable. More than ever before, work processes and procedures should be documented and continuously improved.” Power-Eng says “Establishing a program for transferring knowledge is an essential element for dealing with “brain drain.” Veteran utility workers tend to pass valuable institutional knowledge orally, rather than documenting and updating the information systematically. This intellectual capital is often lost when the worker retires because there is no formal program to capture their know-how.” This conversation must include a plan for replacement as well as transferal of technological expertise.
A Reliable Fix
One way to answer these tough questions is to utilize third party technical services companies, who provide operations and maintenance help. These companies develop site specific training videos, operating procedures, which helps reduce human error, improve operator knowledge and improve facility performance and could reduce insurance costs. For preventative and predictive maintenance, a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) can reduce unscheduled breakdowns of equipment, increase plant reliability and reduce maintenance costs. Another area a third party technical service company can help with is the creation of Smart Piping and Instrumentation Drawings (P&ID’s), which may allow facilities to be a digitally based plant. The P&ID’s are a powerful way to represent the flow, layout, controls of a system as well as maintain a sortable and searchable database of all the systems contained therein. The drawings and database contain the pipe diameter, line number, valves, instruments, controls and respective tags. If other information is found on existing drawings such as type of material, insulation thickness, equipment capacity etc., then this is typically incorporated into the drawings and database. This database is helpful to plant personnel since they can record service dates, look up manufacturer’s parts and replacement parts and can input the location within the building.
Through simple, third party initiatives your plant can have fully trained personnel, up to date procedures, preventative and predictive maintenance management systems. By implementing just a few of these options, power plants can successfully be brought into the digital age and retain the skilled knowledge that is leaving while also improving reliability and safety.
How are you migrating your experienced knowledge to a digital format and the younger generation?