Filling the energy workforce skills gap
Training Magazine | By: Phil Polefrone, Senior Vice President, Workforce Solutions, GSE Systems, Inc.
Simulation technology is an easy way to bring fundamentals and theories for plant operations into real-world applications.
The 21st century marks the beginning of a difficult transition for the energy industry. Global power demands continue to rise, driving the construction of power plants worldwide. At the same time, experienced, knowledgeable engineers and plant operators are leaving the industry in unprecedented numbers. Recruiting experienced, skilled replacements is difficult at best, so the energy sector needs to identify and deploy training tools that will increase the training effectiveness of new workers while reducing the time it takes to train them to be competent.
As an example, “The nuclear energy industry is in the beginning stages of significant workforce transition, with 39 percent of its personnel eligible to retire by 2016 and the need to replace up to 25,000 employees,” said Elizabeth McAndrew-Benavides, the Nuclear Energy Institute’s senior manager for workforce policy and programs (Nuclear Energy Institute). Canada’s oil and gas sector will need to add more than 9,500 skilled workers. Other countries, such as China, India, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates, are faced with similarly daunting statistics.
Investing in Education
As Baby Boomers retire, institutional skills and knowledge often are lost. An aging workforce, combined with the lack of qualified applicants, is creating a global need for quick and effective recruitment and training practices.
Many in the energy industry are calling for greater investments in education. Part of this effort focuses on facilitating training after graduation from formal education programs. Continuing the development of graduates with onboarding courses, vocational training, and job-focused training programs has increased to prepare book-smart students for technical jobs in the energy industry. Doing so can potentially eliminate a $5.2 billion annual loss in the industry, according to a Boyden study—$3 billion of which is directly linked to the skills gap (Boyden Spotlight newsletter, Vol. 7, Issue 1, March 2009).
Developing efficient, customized training programs for educating new plant engineers, operators, and maintainers is critical for minimizing downtime and lost productivity. In addition, programs need to align with the younger generation’s own learning habits. Study after study points toward the same conclusions: Interactive training tools that include dynamic visual elements and readily accessible data are more efficient and yield better long-term results, especially for younger generations. Leveraging these elements reinforces material and engages trainees so they can truly fill the skills gap throughout all energy sectors.
3-D visualization and simulation, the most current interactive tools, immerse trainees in virtual environments where they can experience life-like workplace scenarios. In these virtual environments, trainees have the opportunity to work through potentially dangerous situations without risking harm to themselves or others, and without risking potential damage to a plant’s physical infrastructure or causing equipment downtime. Efficiency in learning highly critical skills can prevent future deficits in plant production and safety standards.
Real-time, high-fidelity simulation increasingly is recognized as a positive long-term investment for building and maintaining a skilled workforce. Simulations today can be run on standard PCs or laptops using universally available operating systems, such as Microsoft Windows, UNIX, and Linux. This has helped make simulation-based training more readily available. On the student’s side, this reduces the time commitment for completing a program. For the company, it minimizes the costs and resources needed for essential training (“The Challenge of Change,” A. Lekich & M. Mirshah, Hydrocarbon Engineering, April 2003).
Lower costs and easier access also have allowed companies to use simulation-based training where they would not have in the past. Universal (generic) power plant simulations have made it cost-feasible for organizations to simultaneously implement multiple training tracks across various job verticals. Read More
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