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Workforce Sustainability in the Process Industry: How will you fill the boots?

by | Jul 8, 2016 | Simulation & Training

We’ve known it was coming for years, and it’s here. The mass exodus of experience as the workforce ages and retires, increasing workforce nationalization, and a general lack of available talent is producing a serious knowledge gap in the process industry. The question is how are you going to fill the empty boots?

Retirement and Nationalization

As our plant equipment is aging, so is the workforce. The new workforce pool made up of millennials is undoubtedly technology savvy, but unfamiliar with much of the legacy technology still in operation in the world’s process industry. Capturing and transferring the 30+ years of tribal knowledge from retiring workers to the next generation is essential.

While workforce retirement is a big issue in North America, Europe and Australia, workforce nationalization is a big factor affecting workforce sustainability in the Middle East. In these countries, governments are under increasing pressure to replace expatriate workers with their own citizens. A robust training program is needed to bring this home-grown talent up-to-speed with plant operations and engineering.

Significant Shortage of Talent

Global energy demand is rapidly increasing all the while the number of individuals entering the field is falling. This creates an unprecedented shortfall of competent workers that could prevent the industry from reaching maximum growth and negatively impact the deliverability of projects and products.

It’s more important than ever for the process industry to recruit, train and maintain their talent. Companies need to align themselves with partners who can help them identify their specific plant’s training needs and develop a training program that fits their needs for filling the knowledge gap, while providing an environment where continued learning empowers employees and gives them a sense of accomplishment.

Addressing the Knowledge Gap and Filling the Boots

Screening and selection of the right candidates for the job

In order to bridge the knowledge gap between your retiring or expatriate workforce and your pool of unskilled workers, you’ll need a full spectrum training program. A successful training program will begin with selecting the right candidates. Taking care to screen and select your workforce upfront ensures the right personal makeup, technical aptitude, and respect for safety necessary to succeed while mitigating the training spend on candidates that won’t make the cut.

Fundamentals for a strong technical foundation

While the process industry relies heavily on technical colleges to provide the industry with fresh talent, these programs don’t exist everywhere and for every operation. Also, these students are heavily recruited by your direct competitors and other industries. Therefore, it is important that your plant’s training program can provide a solid foundation for understanding the fundamentals of unit operations.

Using web-based tutorials is an excellent way to teach the fundamentals and explain complex engineering theory in understandable terms. This method lessens the burden on a plant’s training department because tutorials are self-paced and require minimal instructor involvement.

Gaining experience through universal simulation

Once entry level employees have gained the fundamental understanding of unit operations via self-paced tutorials, they should have the opportunity to apply that knowledge in a universal simulator. Such a tool allows trainees to learn-by-doing, a methodology that helps with knowledge retention of the material they’ve just learned via the fundamental tutorials. Perhaps one of the most powerful uses of the simulator is to experience plant conditions and upsets that come along rarely.  This is how you can gain years of “experience” in the shortest period of time. Training on a universal simulator enables trainees to practice infrequent conditions, such as startup and shutdown, and, potentially, specific process upsets that legacy operators have faced at the plant.

Plant specific training on a custom operator training simulator (OTS)

You’ve chosen the right candidates and have solidified their fundamental knowledge with learn-by-doing opportunities. Now you need to make these entry level trainees into seasoned experts on your specific plant.

They’ll need to be comfortable with your plant’s control room, DCS screens and operating procedures. Many plants provide this training via on-the-job-training, but, while vitally important, your expert operators have their own jobs to do and the trainee isn’t going to experience all of the intricacies of your plant in a few shifts. Utilizing a high-fidelity, custom OTS can provide an effective means of hands-on training in a realistic, safe environment. Beyond initial operator training, the OTS is an excellent just-in-time tool for refresher training on infrequent operations or to test new plant modifications for efficiencies and control system issues.


Workforce sustainability is indeed achievable with the right combination of recruiting and training solutions. By building a full-spectrum training program for your new workforce, you can ensure that your plant gets the talent that it needs now while increasing employee satisfaction and reducing turnover.

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