Training a workforce to meet an increasing demand for individuals with instrumentation skills
Calibration of a process control measurement device requires a detailed, specific approach. How the device is installed, terminated, and used in a process control system dictates the calibration requirements of the device. Calibration techniques require a knowledgeable worker who is able to perform the calibration procedure and apply the standards correctly.
Technological advances in measurement capabilities have generated new control measurement devices, and, as a result, methods and techniques for calibration have adapted to reflect technologies’ influence. Digital communication devices, bus communication protocols, and peer-to-peer networks are included in industrial process control systems across various industries. Power generation, refining (oil and liquefied natural gas), pulp and paper, and chemical production facilities are all seeking to expand and replace their existing workforce.
Industry forecasts, such as those provided by Industrial Info Resources (IIR), indicate a tremendous need for workers who are capable of performing within the field of instrumentation. An aging workforce, coupled with expanding industrial process facilities fueled by an increase in liquefied natural gas (LNG) production, will require training of these workers to meet the demand. Fortunately, preparation of this new workforce is made easier not through training new workers on the industrial complex, but by training existing workers in the electrical industry to move into this sector.
Electrical workers are uniquely prepared to enter this market because electrical theory governs the operation of measurement and signal devices. Calibration concepts and principles use field-garnered experience to develop effective calibrators. Shifting an electrical worker’s focus onto calibration, signal measurements, and power requirements is an easy step to make because the electrical rules of operation for measurement instruments are the same as electrical power operating equipment. Additionally, assessments and credentialing through written and performance exams provide an avenue for journeyman wiremen to demonstrate their competency within the field of instrumentation upon completion of training.
Preparing a workforce to meet the forecasted shortfall requires workers to understand the basic skills of device calibration, device mounting and termination requirements, and basic process properties. A training curriculum should combine the integration of online interactive computer simulations with theory and traditional lesson reviews. A blended learning approach allows computer simulations and hands-on lab exercises to immerse the student into a learning environment that is as close to field training as possible.
Integrating technology to combine classroom instruction with online simulations enhances the understanding of the subject matter. Computer-based training (CBT) allows students to relate complex theories and procedures to a real-life work process. The concept of zero and span, the use of calibration standards, device measuring units, calibration units, and conversion units are just a few of the knowledge requirements a skilled calibration worker must be capable of employing to achieve device accuracy. Visually reinforcing each learning objective in a virtual environment is the most effective instructional tool available when field training is not an option.
Instrumentation by its very nature of work within an industrial establishment does not allow for on-the-job training. A computer-simulated environment for the student to practice and learn the art of calibration is a perfect match. A CBT model allows the user to interact, calibrate, and observe the response of the device. The control system provides instant, visual feedback into the correct (or incorrect) operation of the calibrated device.
Stafford is a director with the National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee (NJATC) based in Upper Marlboro, Md. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.