Integrated Site Specific Training Programs For Facilities Operators
Critical facilities have a low tolerance for human error.
Most if not all facility managers agree that staff require training if expected to perform their duties and assignments competently. This is even more true for critical facilities where there are often significant site nuances due to complex system topologies, multiple layers of redundancy, and equally complex sequences-of-operations in the building automation systems. Couple this with a low tolerance for human error and the need for training becomes obvious.
It is no coincidence that most of the best run sites also have excellent training programs. Developing, implementing, and maintaining a training program requires first and foremost a corporate commitment to ensure the initiative receives the requisite resources, attention, and level-of-effort required. It also requires leadership with a good understanding of how a training program differs from what often is a set of disjointed training classes.
The best training programs are structured and customized to match the needs of the students. In critical facilities the “students” are the employees and staff assigned to perform the day-to-day operations and maintenance of the critical infrastructure. The fundamental goals and objectives of this training are to produce staff who can perform their assigned duties consistently, safely, and in a quality manner. Unlike typical academics, this training needs to be what is called performance-based training.
The development of a performance-based training program starts with what is called a “job analysis.” A job analysis establishes what the staff duties and responsibilities are, what the prerequisite skills and knowledge level are for entering students, and what constitutes as “competent” performance. Each job position (controls technician, mechanic, electrician, etc.) should be broken down into what tasks and activities are assigned to that position.
The training program should be structured and organized to provide a road map to train a newly hired employee to become able to perform his job with little or no supervision. This is where a training program differs from training classes. The program should include a program syllabus in the form of a flowchart that shows what classes or modules are prerequisites for advancing to the next class or module and what tests, certifications, or other performance measurements need to be completed. It should also identify what duties and tasks can be performed based on successful completion of relevant classes or modules.
The training should include topics directly related to the employee’s assigned tasks. This includes topics such as the site infrastructure topologies and possible configurations, equipment, and systems training including standard operating procedures and emergency operating procedures, and use of various facilities related programs such as the CMMS (computerized maintenance management system), document management and control system, login and use of the building monitoring and control system(s), etc.
The training should also include topics such as what is the corporate mission and how the facility supports the mission, how the corporation is organized and what each business unit does, what the corporate and site standards and policies are and how they affect job performance. Topics should include site work practices and processes such as change control procedures and approvals, emergency response and escalation procedures, access controls and escort requirements and approvals, vendor and contractor supervision, service-level agreements (SLAs) for both internal clients as well as outside vendors and contractors, and other topics that educate the employee on how his specific role fits in with and supports the overall site operations in support of the mission.
Since most mission critical operations now rely to a large degree on the IT department and their respective data centers and associated supporting infrastructure, it is extremely valuable to provide some fundamental cross-training between the IT and facilities management organizations and employees. Facilities operating engineers and technicians should have a basic understanding of how and where the IT hardware is deployed. Some IT-related topics would be basic IT terminology and definitions such as MDF, IDF, SAN, NOC, etc., and a high-level understanding of what work processes and policies they must comply with. It should also include training on how the IT equipment gets procured, staged, deployed, tested, managed, and eventually decommissioned and refreshed. The goal is to not only train the employee on how to do his job, but also to provide the context on how his performance and processes can directly impact his IT counter-parts in the performance of their tasks.
Likewise, the IT staff should have similar training on the fundamentals regarding supporting critical infrastructure (UPSs, chillers, HVAC, etc.) and facilities operating staff. This would include training on the site mechanical, electrical, plumbing (MEP), and life safety systems. They should have a basic understanding on how the data center and other critical IT rooms are powered and cooled including rated design conditions, useable system capacities and how these thresholds are determined, and what redundancies are provided.
As can be seen, the majority of the training discussed above must be site specific since each site is to some extent unique. This doesn’t mean that all of the training must be developed from scratch. There are many outside training programs that are applicable to a given site such as vendor provided training on their products such as UPSs, chillers, pumps, generators, etc.
Likewise, there are generic human resource training classes and IT and computer classes that can provide training and in some cases certifications to staff. The best practice is to combine and integrate training classes and modules into a structured program. An example would be to supplement vendor provided generic training on their product with a site specific class on how the product is installed and configured in the facility, what it’s capabilities are in relation to the overall system, how it is monitored and controlled, and what the site specific setpoints and alarm thresholds are. This should also include the use of any associated standard and emergency operating and maintenance procedures.
The training program must also include management controls and means to track employee attendance and certifications, schedule training for new hires, transfers, as well as remedial and continuous training for existing staff, and a means to identify corporate and site changes that necessitate revising the training and providing retraining as appropriate.
The development and implementation of a quality site specific training program is typically a large and difficult undertaking. It requires a team effort led by an expert in developing and implementing performance-based training. It requires leadership and expertise in training development supplemented with experts with a broad knowledge about the corporate mission, organization, standards, and policies as well as technical experts (also called subject matter experts) who understand the duties and responsibilities of the staff and the details of the site specific infrastructure, systems, controls, etc. As stated previously, the most important requirement is for the executives in charge to understand the intrinsic value of a well trained staff and make a real and lasting commitment to provide the attention, resources, and effort to develop and maintain the training program.