CBT modules and simulations for the development of a competent workforce
DEW Journal | By: Gill Grady, Sr. Vice President, Santosh Joshi, Vice President, Francis Teo, South East Asia Representative, GSE Systems
For years, the oil and gas industry has relied on custom, full-scope operator training simulators (OTS) to teach new console operators and to hone the skill of experienced staff. However, the use of a learning strategy that blends custom OTS with universal simulations and e-learning computer-based training (CBT) modules affords many advantages. It allows plant owners to reduce costs over training lifecycle by empowering them to:
- Measure and identify gaps in competence;
- Provide targeted training;
- Ensure relevant and consistent content;
- Improve competence;
- Reduce learning times.
It is important to recognize that “competence” refers to performance rather than ability. Competence comprises knowledge, skills and behavior (attitude) that are demonstrated on the job.
Traditionally, simulator-based training in oil and gas plants is provided using large-sale customized replica simulators based on distributed control systems (DCS). These simulators replicate the control room environment and DCS user interface. The benefits of simulation training are well known and well documented across the energy industry.
But most global petroleum plants have 10 to 20 major processes, and owners cannot afford custom OTS for each. Time on a DCS-based simulator is typically limited by the hardware and the number of instructors. Before trainees can use the OTS efficiently, they must have a basic knowledge of DCS and process fundamentals, otherwise they are wasting valuable simulator and instructor time. However, simply training console operators to a level where they are capable of using a DCS-based simulator is a substantial task.
Additionally, plant owners want to provide simulator-based training for field and maintenance operators, process technicians and engineers. Using a full-scope OTS system for non-console operators is not practical, as it requires knowledge of DCS operations and familiarity with DCS-based process graphics and controls.
Plants should follow a strategy that reserves the customized OTS for educating high-value assets, mainly console operators, on significant learning objectives such as detailed unit-specific startup, shutdown and emergency response. In a parallel effort, plants should also deploy universal simulations and CBTs to teach process fundamentals and controls for all operators as well as for technicians and engineers. These types of training tools deliver 80 percent of the learning at 20 percent of the cost. Using them will speed up training and reduce overall training costs, while delivering a workforce that is fully competent.
Unit-specific training is often accomplished through mentorship programs using shift supervisors. However, using CBTs prior to placing students into mentoring relationships increases the effectiveness and the value of the relationships. Instructors/mentors can better engage trainees/mentees and then make use of the simulator to teach process operations and troubleshooting techniques.
Training best practices use knowledge of fundamental processes and controls as a foundation, then progress to unit operations and integrated processes. With this approach, all trainees learn fundamentals of equipment and unit operations via self-paced tutorials. They are able to practice startup, shutdown, normal operations and troubleshooting with universal simulation models. These tools are ideal for teaching troubleshooting techniques that allow them to identify the root cause and options for corrective measures.
Using a consistent training program and set of learning tools across the organization allows better understanding of processes and builds confidence between operators and engineers, resulting in mutual respect and thus better communication.
A comprehensive CBT on process operations educates trainees on the “what” and “why” of process operations, while the “how” is taught via universal simulations. The instructor can use this tool to introduce “what if” malfunction scenarios for the trainee to troubleshoot. While difficult to teach in the classroom, “what if” scenarios are easily exercised using universal simulations.
Because the student already understands the basic principles, the instructor is now free to focus on the “why” and “how,” transferring high-value knowledge instead of fundamental information. This is where the instructor/trainee relationship begins to contribute real value to the plant owner. It is also the start of developing the “doer” employee into the “thinker-doer.”
CBT tutorials and universal simulations can be made available on demand so that students can revisit specific topics on their own and engage the instructor when necessary. This shortens the learning process and reduces cost by not requiring two people (instructor and trainee) to be involved in learning the fundamentals.
By using the blended learning approach that combines full-scope simulation training with e-learning/CBTs, universal simulations, traditional classroom instruction and one-on-one mentoring, companies can produce effective learning regimens that reach each student regardless of their preferred learning style. This approach fully embraces the three key learning modalities – visual, auditory and kinesthetic – which, when used in combination,
provide trainees with powerful and realistic learning experiences.
In addition to practical exercises, this blended regimen will provide insight into the trainee’s attitude. Instructors can then provide feedback. The process is less daunting to the new process operator to first work on the universal simulator before working on the customized OTS and results in a smoother, more seamless learning experience.
The Value Proposition
The true benefit of a simulation based workforce development program that blends CBTs, universal and customized OTS training is the value it returns on behavior, which will help the trainee reach full competence.
It is important for plant owners to know that putting new operators on customized OTS is similar to putting new operators to work on the actual plant, which may be an unwise learning approach. The universal simulator is a suitable intermediate training tool to gain operations competence before working on a customized OTS to assure operational competence. It reaps its investment within a view years. The benefit, however, is not strictly financial. Companies will eliminate the bottleneck caused by the limited availability of instructors and resources, and they will see a reduction in trainees’ time to competence.
The blended learning approach is also applicable for training a wide range of plant personnel, such as field/outside and console/panel operators, maintenance staff, and process and reliability engineers. Hence, an investment made in blended learning tools can be cost justified over a much wider user base.
These products reduce the instructor’s time commitment, as most of the basic operational knowledge is explained in the self-paced tutorials. The programs run on standard PCs and are ideal for groups and classrooms where trainees can work independently using their own CBTs and simulations. This is both cost effective and schedule-friendly.
Undoubtedly the biggest payoff from simulation training is worker competence. For a plant with revenue of about US$100 million per year, a productivity increase of 0.5% means US$500,000 in additional revenue per year.
A 1984 economic survey of more than 200 supervisors in 11 plant locations showed an average benefit of US$21,000 (about US$43,000 adjusted to current dollars) per operator, per year as a result of improved performance from simulation-based training.
The main cost saving is in the area of improved troubleshooting, where early diagnosis of fault and quick corrective action minimizes the cost of upsets and may even avoid unit shutdown.
M&M Protection Consultants, a worldwide organization specializing in hazard control, annually publishes property damage loss figures in hydrocarbon-chemical industries. Their data shows that process industries may incur loss due to accidents of $1 to $2 billion in the next 10 years. Prevention of even one accident can justify many CBT and universal simulation training modules.
When used in conjunction with customized DCS replica simulators, CBTs and universal simulations clearly provide a substantial return on investment for workforce development in the oil and gas industry. Workers reach higher levels of competency in less time in areas such as:
- Control system and process fundamentals
- Complex cause-and-effect relationships in process variables
- Troubleshooting skills
- Instrument tuning techniques
- Safety procedures
Workers with enhanced competence are more confident, effective and efficient, which results in:
- Faster startups with less flaring
- Fewer shutdowns with shorter durations
- Reduced risk of equipment damage
- Improved safety awareness.
In the long run, oil and gas plant owners will see financial improvements to the bottom line.
Full story available in the March issue of DEW Journal