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Education and skills – double your returns

Keys to Success

When we were younger most of our parents probably told us that we needed to have a good education to get ahead and do well in life. After all, it is the key that unlocks career paths, it opens doors and closes them if it is missing. Even prisoners on long sentences get an education so they can get a better start on life after their incarceration.

Some people crave education, yet whether we crave it or avoid it, all of us learn all of the time. Experience is gained when education (or lack of it) is applied. Education isn’t just about school and tests and degrees, diplomas or certificates. It’s about knowledge and more importantly, our ability to apply it to get the results we want. Those results can be career advancement or they can be improvements in reliability of our plants, better performance from engineered systems, finding a quicker route home …

We also realize as we gain experience, that the only true constant in life is change. We are constantly adapting to change – new technologies, how to keep old technologies running, regulatory, workforce composition, loss of experience with retirements, increasingly tech savvy new workers, the relentless creep of the IIoT, online learning, our own aging, relationships that come and go …

In fact, we are all very good at change, yet most of us resist it when it is imposed. We are not good at “being changed”. One of the keys to overcoming resistance to changes when they are imposed on us, is learning. We see this at work all the time. A new computer system is introduced and most organizations are careful to provide user training so we will understand and be able to use the new system. If they are good a change management they will also do much more, some of which is education to show you why the new system is needed, what it will do for your organization and what it will mean for you in terms of making your job easier, more fulfilling, more valuable to the organization, or in some unfortunate cases, redundant. Whether we like the outcome or not tough, the education we get in whatever format it is provided, helps us understand and eventually accept.

Talk in many companies today is about the loss of experience. The baby boom generation is retiring and about half already has. That generation didn’t grow up with instantly available information and portable electronic technical manuals. They couldn’t look something up when needed and forget it when it wasn’t needed. They tended to learn and hold onto that learning. They made many mistakes, as we all do, and added that experience to their knowledge. Over the course of a career – 40 or more years, they became very proficient at what they did, they could do even difficult things quickly and correctly, often without reference to outside materials. They are leaving.

The replacements are much younger, usually better educated, and armed with an unprecedented capability with mobile electronics and a proclivity for using the internet to find what they need to know in a new situation. I’ve seen it in training where I’m attempting to simulate a lack of job plans and the difficulty it can present to a worker in the field. The older workers will struggle to figure out what to do and how to do it. Their younger counterparts look it up online on their mobile phone and find the solution. If the information they find is accurate and applicable, then they are fine, but if it’s not quite right, they can get just as stuck as the older person struggling with no instructions at all. What we see happening is their lack of experience slowing them down. They haven’t yet learned to adapt from one situation or set of instructions to another similar, but different, application.

In time that experience will grow, but right now, in our work force, we are suffering because of a loss of experience and as wonderful as technology is, it is not yet filling in the gap.

By the way, for those of you who are planners, fear not, a lot of what you put into job plans isn’t that readily available online – at least not yet.

So how do we close that gap more quickly?

Education can replace experience to some extent. Education must become more practical and applied for us to achieve that. Universities have already taken science and applied it, calling it engineering.  Engineering theoretical education must be more applicable to today’s systems. Yet that is not the job of the universities who have a research and knowledge advancement role in addition to education. Where does that application of education come from?

Oddly enough – more education, albeit a practical applied form. It comes through industrial training – courses in planning and scheduling, reliability centered maintenance, root cause analysis, Weibull analysis. It includes training in the use and application of specific technologies – ultrasonics, infrared, vibration, oil analysis, etc. For those managing modern maintenance and asset management organizations there is practical continuing education in the form of PEMAC’s MMP program, or their CAMP program, University of Toronto’s Physical Asset Management Certification program and others. Training companies the world over put together very specialized training in virtually all business fields – accounting, human resources, finance, operations excellence, maintenance, asset management. They produce it for general or industry specific audiences. Some training takes on new names to make it palatable to specific industrial jargon. All of these are forms of education.

Some of these provide certificates, degrees, diplomas or just a pat on the back and more work. They are all aimed at increasing our capability to do something useful. In fact these days we see a proliferation of “certificates” and acronyms that people are entitled, by virtue of their education, to put after their names. Of course these all look good on a resume as well as a business card. They impress many, but not all. What really matters is the ability to apply what’s been learned in your particular business and company to generate more value.

The formal education system can’t possibly provide schooling for all the possibilities. Industry has been taking up the slack. Equipment suppliers, consulting firms, experienced individuals, colleges and universities all offer education to meet these expanded demands that go beyond the three R’s and a degree.

But all this is clouded by the reluctance of many companies to provide their workers with training and education that is needed. In some cases they are operating too lean – perhaps anorexic in a sense, and they cannot afford to allow someone time off work to improve themselves, even if the company will benefit. Sometimes they are just too tight fisted with cash – always a short-sighted perspective, but worsened if it is part of the company culture. Improvement in those organizations only comes with staff turnover – usually a very expensive experience. Many companies want improvements in productivity, quality and costs, but they are cheating themselves when they fail to encourage and provide training.

We all know that successful organizations are almost always “learning organizations”. That learning is far more than schooling and training, but those are an important part of it. Those organizations will survive and thrive, others will stagnate, lose profitability and market share and eventually disappear.

If you want to fix one of the biggest problems we have in western industry today – then learn!

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