Addressing The Training Dilemma

Kathy | June 1, 2008

Elegant Maintenance Managers will easily recognize and be able to capture the benefits that formal on-the-job training can provide for their organizations.

A successful trainer typically will employ two major principles in his or her work. The first of these is to ensure that trainees have the ability and talent for what their assignments will be. The second principle is to ensure that the initial training time is spent on what the trainees need to know. When these two principles come together, the result is an elegant training program. Unfortunately, in some operations, it’s difficult for managers to specify exactly what a trainee needs to know. That can be quite a problem for a maintenance organization.

What they need to know
Maintenance teams need to know how to conduct the business of maintenance. For example:

  • They need to know equipment locations and access requirements.
  • They need to know how to get their work assignments.
  • They need to know how to obtain tools and materials.
  • They need to know what safety practices to observe.
  • They need to know whom to communicate with and about what.
  • They need to know which documentation will be needed or helpful.
  • They need to know the status of the equipment, related equipment and overall operations.
  • They need to know how to properly complete paperwork to produce a meaningful record.
  • And they need to know when they have completed their task.

Regardless of their degree of technical knowledge, if maintenance personnel cannot understand all of the items above, they will be ineffective, possibly dangerous and the cause of additional corrective maintenance action(s). Keep in mind that about 50% of corrective maintenance tasks result from uncontrolled actions by the maintenance staff. This issue must be addressed before any other training is contemplated.

On-the-job training
A good way to start an effective in-house training program is through formal on-the-job training (FOJT) that incorporates an orientation training checklist for employees based on the documented maintenance process. “Formal” means that this type of on-the-job-training (OJT) is documented with an administrative control procedure and performance qualification sign-offs for each maintenance technician.

Informal OJT programs will not work because they are uncontrolled and undocumented to such an extent that there is no accountability and no record of accomplishment. They cannot withstand any kind of audit. Informal OJT programs degenerate into nonexistence depending on the interest of the individual who is supposed to provide the OJT—what gets passed on is anybody’s guess, and even that becomes less and less over time.

The in-house FOJT program is based on the specification for the conduct of maintenance (maintenance process procedures) that should be in existence if the management team has done its job. Remember, management is obligated to specify how it wants to conduct the maintenance function. That is the fundamental work of managers. This specification is the information the maintenance team needs to know.

What would the minimum set of management instructions on the conduct of the maintenance function look like? Let’s start with the process of maintenance. This would be the outlined statement of what one would look for during a maintenance action. The following information represents some very specific items about which management must instruct all maintenance personnel as part of their FOJT program.

The maintenance process…
Every individual and group (department, committee, team, etc.) at a facility is involved in many different activities, most of which involve multiple individual actions and interfaces with others both on and off site. The most effective way to ensure that personnel have developed a level of capability in execution of maintenance-related activities is for them to demonstrate that they understand the maintenance process and its key elements. This is best accomplished in-house through FOJT.

Note that maintenance process training applies to supervisors and other lead personnel, QA personnel and the engineering staff—especially the engineering staff. Engineers are responsible for providing the information necessary for the development of operating and maintenance procedures applicable to their system and equipment responsibility. When they design or specify systems and equipment for the enterprise, they must ensure that the operations and maintenance specifications, methods and training materials are included and available to O&M personnel.

Specifying awareness of maintenance process requirements to be part of the engineering staff ‘s responsibilities is necessary to ensure that the enterprise management staff understands the role of engineering in O&M activities. Ignorance of this fact, though, often lets the engineering staff escape its responsibility to contribute to the efficiency and effectiveness of the O&M staff, the reliability of the enterprise systems and equipment and the engineering staff ‘s share of the contribution to the bottom line. This needs to change.

Start by training the engineering staff in its responsibility for the maintenance process. While they’re at it, have the engineering staff also prepare and execute the installation, operational, and performance testing and acceptance for all engineering projects that affect the O&M function.


Task-complexity basis for maintenance training requirements…
The concept of work falling within the “skill of the craft” and not requiring detailed aids such as procedures, mockups, supervision or training has been around for decades. It implies that there is such a minimal capability expectation of personnel that special training is not necessarily required prior to task assignment. Thus, based on this premise, an individual should be able to execute certain tasks simply because they fall within the skill of the craft.

To establish the basic training level for the maintenance staff, one must understand what makes a task so complex that training or procedures would be required. In order to do this, one must understand complexity itself. Use the following definitions to determine the levels of complexity (i.e., the difficulty of the task):

  1. The job is complex if there are several interrelated things (e.g., parts, system interaction, equipment availability) that vary with time, and have uncertainty about whether or not these are the correct things that will come together to address the deficiency and complete the job as planned.
  2. The job is moderately involved if the uncertainty factor is missing.
  3. The job is simple if there is no uncertainty and no time variance on resource and equipment availability.
  4. The job may be considered as a minor maintenance category job, within the “skill of the craft,” if none of the above complicating factors apply (no uncertainty, no time variance and no interrelated things).

This concept is more understandable relative to developing training requirements and has a practical side when viewed from a maintenance planner’s point of view. It is obvious that a planner who can assess the problem situation in terms of the three complicating factors (several interrelated things, time variance and uncertainty) is a planner who appreciates the complexity of the planning to be done for a particular job.

Based on the determination of problem complexity, the planner determines if the work should be performed as a minor maintenance task, a moderately difficult task with routine planning such as pulling existing procedures and parts lists and making estimates based on established standards, or if a complex work plan will be required. Examining the checklists a planner would use for these determinations, one would have a pretty good list of things to cover in a FOJT program, as part of the maintenance process that maintenance technicians should follow.

These checklists must be developed by maintenance departments if they are to capture the corporate knowledge of their most experienced and most knowledgeable personnel. If the checklists are not developed, the corporate knowledge leaves when this valuable, irreplaceable human resource walks out the door—and the most valuable FOJT training resource also is lost. An example of a simplified planning checklist is shown in Fig. 1.

Skill of the craft…
Worker experience, expertise and qualification, as well as supervisory oversight and quality assurance, determine the scope of jobs that are in the category of “within the skill of the craft.” This important concept takes advantage of inherent workforce capability to function with minimal direction in performing tasks and using resources.

Maintenance craft labor should not require any additional training beyond the orientation and maintenance process training mentioned previously for the tasks in the following bulleted list. The implication is that your FOJT program should begin with technical subject matter beyond this level if your work force competency meets basic hiring level requirements.

Basic hiring level requirements should be defined in job descriptions. If no job descriptions exist, check the U.S. Department of Labor Website (www.USDOL.gov) under the Directory of Occupations as a start to define basic hiring level requirements. Although specific situations will require specific decisions, the following list of typical maintenance planning tasks will help start the process. Interpret these items as those activities that fall within the “skill of the craft” for a basically capable maintenance operation. (Note: These items, along with non-critical maintenance tasks discussed later, also may be used for operator maintenance training in an autonomous training program adjunct to a FOJT program.)

  • Use non-specialized equipment in the taking of standard measurements.
  • Perform the minor fabrication of existing parts (standard geometries).
  • Perform routine rigging.
  • Perform non-critical welding within the qualification of the craftsman not requiring special permits.
  • Perform inspections in accordance with written guidelines or procedures.
  • Perform in-kind replacement of parts not requiring adjustment such as alignment or calibration.
  • Perform routine cleaning, adjustment or replacement such as for fittings, filters, belts or sealing surfaces.
  • Perform simple valve maintenance such as seat lapping, packing replacement and stem burnishing.
  • Carry out relamping and fuse replacement if problem is cleared and tagouts are in place.
  • Conduct lubrication rounds.
  • Perform surface corrosion cleaning, including dressing threads.
  • Trim levels in reservoirs and maintain refrigerant charges.
  • Perform soldering, wire wrapping, crimping, tube bending and installation.


Skill-of-the-craft consideration for contract or temporary workers requires more planning detail and supervisory control initially. As members of this part of the maintenance workforce become better known, they may be treated the same as in-house staff. They may come under the same level “skill of the craft” assessment if the contractor has a QA plan and training and certification program acceptable to the responsible facility organization.

Non-critical maintenance…
The above listing of basic tasks that should not require training beyond the maintenance process training provides guidance on tasks that fall within the skill of the craft. Coupled with the task level determination is the nature of the task per se in assessing the extent of the planning requirement for a given job. For maintenance tasks on facility electrical, mechanical or measuring and test equipment and associated parts, judge the task non-critical and within the skill of the craft when the following conditions are met:

  • The equipment is non-critical or the part affected is not critical to the operation of the equipment.
  • The equipment or part does not perform a regulatory required function (e.g., OSHA, FDA, EPA functions).
  • The inherent safety and reliability design of the equipment will not be affected.
  • The work doesn’t constitute a design change (e.g. material substitution, different model parts, fabrication that affects function or engineering properties).
  • Disassembly to the sub-assembly or part level is not required.
  • Welding will not be performed on equipment or parts as a means to restore original integrity.
  • Special permits and procedures such as burn permits, tag-outs and confined-space entry are not required.
  • Non-destructive examination or post-maintenance testing will not be required.

Examples of non-critical maintenance… mechanical

  • Perform valve maintenance such as packing adjustment, repair/replace hand wheel, clean, burnish, lubricate valve stem.
  • Perform pump maintenance such as packing/seal adjustment, lubricating, add/change oil and minor adjustments within given operating bands. 36-43
  • Stop leakage in piping connections, equipment fittings, seals and other pressure integrity barriers within specified torque values and consistent with gasketting and bolt tightening practices.
  • Perform replacement, adjustment or dressing of fastener hardware.
  • Perform all door maintenance, except on special doors such as pressure or watertight, fire barrier or security alarmed doors.
  • Perform general building and grounds maintenance, except that required by codes, standards or regulations.

Examples of non-critical maintenance… electrical

  • Perform relamping and fuse replacement for fuses under 10 Amperes rating.
  • Perform electric panel and instrument panel indication and status checks (visual).
  • Perform distribution wiring hardware inspection and adjustment of items such as fasteners, latches, and clamps.
  • Replace plug-in equipment in kind.
  • Perform routine checks such as meggering, continuity checks, fuse condition and measuring of circuit parameters for information only use.
  • Check security of grounding connections and clean and tighten as necessary.
  • Motors: Replace air filters, replace cover screws, replace screens.
  • Plant paging system: Repair or replace handles, knobs, etc.
  • Portable sump pumps: Repair or replace motor or wiring.
  • Doors, locks or latches: Repair or replace (except fire and security doors).
  • Telephone equipment: Install, replace or repair. Examples of non-critical maintenance… measurement & control
  • Perform calibration of simple devices.
  • Replace indicators such as bulbs or lamps.
  • Perform minor adjustments on recorders (e.g., pen, paper replacement).
  • Replace fuses.
  • Perform most maintenance on local gauges.
  • Clean and replace filters.
  • Perform functional checks.
  • Inspect and adjust cabinet hardware (fasteners, latches, locks).
  • Troubleshoot and make minor repairs on defective components after removal from service.

If your maintenance workforce cannot perform the non-critical items listed in the foregoing section—even after orientation and maintenance process FOJT—you may want to consider the following approach. Set up each of these non-critical items in the shop and “qualify” the maintenance staff in the non-critical areas before going on to the more complicated, technical tasks to be found in the vendor documentation under the recommended O&M requirements. Next, ask yourself how your company’s hiring practices let these individuals in the door—and now that they’re in, do they really have the aptitude for performing the maintenance function.


Getting beyond skill of the craft and non-critical maintenance…
The planner’s checklists mentioned earlier in this article are useful in establishing a sign-off list for a FOJT program that goes beyond the noncritical level of maintenance that a maintenance technician should know. This type of checklist represents a combination of the maintenance process training, “skill of the craft” knowledge and the general content of vendor O&M requirements.

Such a combination is the extent of an in-house FOJT program consistent with the aptitude of a properly hired maintenance staff and the knowledge and skill level they need in order to meet a minimum standard of performance at an industrial facility. Additional, specialized training may be required, but the need is now so precisely defined that the return on the training dollar investment will be maximized and easily presented for consideration in the budgeting process. Elegant Maintenance Managers will be able to show significant accomplishment in staff training within the training resource of the given budget, thus laying the groundwork and increasing the probability for their stake holders to increase the training investment in their area of responsibility.

The form shown in Fig. 2 is an example of the type of record generated in a FOJT program to establish a maintenance technician’s level of training and achievement on facility-specific systems and equipment—in this case, for an electrician. A “Prerequisites and Corequisites Checklist” documents the technician’s detailed knowledge of the maintenance process. (To request actual examples of a maintenance process document, the prereq/coreq checklist and other FOJT documents, visit www.forensicaction.com and click on the e-mail address.)

A maintenance workforce that is hired based on skill levels as defined by organizations such as the U.S. Department of Labor, with some exceptions, has the aptitude for the job and likely the intelligence to learn. If a maintenance manager establishes the conduct of maintenance by way of procedures and practices, the groundwork is laid for a formal OJT program that will pay immediate benefits by addressing those corrective maintenance tasks caused by a lack of control of the maintenance function (about 50% of the CM tasks). Elegant Maintenance Managers have a well-defined maintenance process that serves as the basis for a training program in how personnel are to work in their respective enterprise. MT

Jim Huzdovich is the principal engineer and principal consultant providing maintenance and reliability services and expert witness services in litigation matters for Forensic Action Services, LLC, in Denton, TX. His specialties include investigations in electromechanical engineering, industrial engineering, management negligence issues and fire, arson and explosion events. Dr. Huzdovich also is an adjunct instructor at the University of North Texas in Denton, where he teaches Operations Management and Project Management in the Management Department’s MBA program. Telephone: (817) 456-4491; e-mail: jhuzdovich@verizon.net; Website: www.forensicaction.com




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