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Pipeline Control Room Aging Workforce

Aging Workforce: How to Train New Pipeline Personnel on Roles & Responsibilities

American businesses across every industry are faced with the challenge of an aging workforce and how to transfer knowledge, experience, and skills to the next generation.

Pipeliners are no different. Many controllers and control room managers have been in the business for decades. Now, new young professionals are entering the workforce seeking answers to their questions about their roles and responsibilities and the use of procedures in the pipeline control room.

“This is how we’ve always done it” simply does not cut it. There needs to be a clear, decisive plan for training new personnel on roles and responsibilities. The key is understanding where your starting point is and how to effectively transfer this expertise before the veterans of the industry before they reach retirement age.

What is the Workforce Challenge for Pipeline Operators?

Ross Adams, our Regulatory and Software Support team lead, said it well on a recent episode of the Pipeliners Podcast.

At SGA 2018, the conversation was about attracting young talent to the pipeline industry. At the 2019 SGA Natural Gas Connect conference earlier this year, the conversation shifted to retaining talent that has entered the industry.

It was an interesting conversation about the age disparity within the controller workforce. Some control rooms are made up of 50 and 60-year-olds looking down the road to retirement. Then, other control rooms have personnel in their 20s and 30s. And, a third group of control rooms have a mix of both generations trying to navigate their unique perspectives on career and life.

How do pipeline operators and, more specifically, control room managers create the right tone in the control room to ensure a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities while maintaining productivity, safety, and ultimately compliance?

Knowledge transfer starts with the culture.

Set the Culture — Set the Standard

When talking about the workforce, there is a misconception that culture is a peripheral matter. In other words, culture is what happens in between, around, before, or after the work. For example, the water cooler conversation, lunch break dynamics, or getting together after work.

That is not the way to think of culture in a pipeline control room setting.

In actuality, culture is a direct reflection of the work. It’s a reflection of attitudes and behaviors toward the work. It’s how well personnel follow policies and procedures, adhere to safety mindsets, and understand their role supporting natural compliance in the control room. That is culture.

It’s the responsibility of control room managers to focus on the key points that make up the culture. It’s about asking questions to identify gaps, holding review sessions, focusing on safety, monitoring workload and Hours of Service, and reviewing progress on the journey to natural compliance.

Why is this important? It’s about setting a standard for the work. The standard cannot be “this is how we’ve always performed tasks in the control room.” There needs to be documentation of actions, roles, and responsibilities tied back to the policies and procedures of the control room — no exceptions. This will set the right tone for the younger workforce to better understand their role in supporting control room compliance.

Engage in Knowledge Transfer

When you build the culture, you have a foundation to support the effective transfer of knowledge from experienced controllers and support personnel to newer workers entering the workforce.

Knowledge transfer cannot be “here’s how we’ve always done it; now sit and watch me.” That may have been how the older workforce learned their trade, but it cannot continue to naturally drive toward compliance.

Today’s younger workforce will not be afforded as many opportunities to learn First Floor elements getting their hands dirty in the field. With advancements in technology, the younger workforce is entering at the Fifth Floor ready to start performing work.

The challenge is ensuring that the culture is in place to support knowledge transfer when there are two completely different mentalities and two completely different experience levels in-play.

It could be easy for an older worker to become frustrated with the expectations of a younger worker. Vice versa, a younger worker could be quickly disenfranchised by the attitude of “this is just what we do” without documentation or knowledge to support the instruction.

How do you bridge the gap? The common ground is mentorship.

Younger workers are seeking mentorship to build their knowledge base. For older workers, it’s an opportunity to provide mentorship and give back to keep the industry moving forward. It’s mutually beneficial for both sides to pursue this opportunity. Set within the context of the right pipeline culture, this opportunity should produce positive results.

Arriving at Natural Compliance in the Pipeline Control Room

The right culture sets the right tone for attitudes and behaviors, which fuels the right approach to knowledge transfer to the next generation.

The fruit of this is ensuring that the next generation of workers understands their roles and responsibilities for Pipeline Operations Excellence — safe on goal operation, while supporting compliance and safety.

Many pipeline operators have found success holding regular training sessions, updating their policies and procedures using feedback from discussions, and using metrics to track progress toward the ultimate goal of natural compliance.

Younger workers want to be able to see progress toward a goal. Am I getting better, worse, or stagnating? They want to know if they are aligned with roles and responsibilities in the control room or if they need additional training or mentorship to find their way.

Control room managers have a unique responsibility of monitoring progress and using tools to track performance to ensure that your operation is on the right track.

EnerSys is available to support control room managers through our compliance and consulting capabilities, plus our software support.

Our team understands the importance of knowledge transfer within our own organization. We apply this to how we work with customers to ensure the foundation is set before utilizing software tools to support the control room.

Once the foundation is set, control room managers find tremendous value in our POEMS Control Room Management (CRM) software suite. The suite includes modules that make it easy to create documentation for compliance purposes, track critical areas of control room management, and identify gaps in roles and responsibilities.

Contact us today to inquire about utilizing our compliance services and software tools. We believe we have the right approach to help operators bridge the gap from experienced control room personnel to the new workforce.

To schedule a consultation, contact us directly on our website, via email at sales@enersyscorp.com, or by phone at 281-598-7100.

Russel Treat

Russel Treat is an industry leader, software entrepreneur, podcaster, and trusted subject matter expert specializing in oil and gas pipeline operations, custody transfer measurement, leak detection, and automation. Russel’s extensive knowledge of pipeline and control room operations gained over 30 years of projects led to the creation of a complete software suite known as POEMS ™ (Pipeline Operations Excellence Management System) delivered through EnerSys Corporation.

As CEO of EnerSys, Russel is committed to delivering the highest value to pipeline operators by addressing their greatest needs and concerns, especially operational efficiency, safety and government regulation.