Extended Online Version -- Tomorrow's Engineer: System Training - Who Are We Kidding?

February 10, 2008
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Whether a project is going to be LEED® certified or not, system training is critical to long term (e.g., sustainable) building management success, so who are we kidding as we specify the contractor shall provide system training as part of the competitively bid construction job? If you read my column last month on O&M manuals, you will know how I feel about this flawed specification process and that we need to implement a 21st century solution to these O&M documents.

The same can be said for ensuring the O&M staffs receive adequate training on the systems they will be responsible for over the life of these systems. Analogous to my favorite example, the automobile, if you invest $15,000 in a new vehicle or even much more for this vehicle, don’t you have to be trained to drive? Doesn’t it take studying the rulebook, practicing your driving, and then taking a test to get a driver’s license before you are allowed to drive your new vehicle? Would you let anyone drive your car knowing they don’t have the training and experience to operate the car? After all, you just spent $15,000 of your own money. So why would a building owner allow a person or persons to operate and maintain their HVAC investment which could have cost the owner millions of dollars to have furnished and installed?

The Cost Of Training

Contract specifications may or may not go into much detail on how system training will be implemented. Somehow, we find this will be adequate just as long as you don’t expect to be the one required to provide this training. After all, who is going to make the time to provide training, participate in the training, and/or pay the real price for training? Don’t you think it is much better to imply it will get done, and then you can say, “Well, I specified training but it’s somebody else’s responsibility to make this happen.

I believe the problem relative to inadequate training starts with the building owner or building program committee. It is their responsibility to ensure funds are made available for a comprehensive training program, just as they are responsible for ensuring that there will be an adequate O&M budget to sustain the building operation and to not to use all the building program funds up in “first cost.”

Lately, I have been seeing more text on training within a specification, but there is no business plan embedded into the building program and/or real commitment by the owner, design team, or contractor to achieve the specification goals.

The solution to this education dilemma is to fund third-party system training early in the design phase, just like commissioning is now being funded and implemented at that time. Once schematics design is completed and the building systems are known per the basis of design, then a third-party educator should sit down with the building owner and outline a training agenda, suggested budget, and suggested timeline to educate the staff.

Starting with the teacher and classes, I’ve made some quick reference bullet lists for educator/class details, lists of systems/training classes, and a training timeline through the design, construction, and warranty phases.

Educator and Class:

• Name and resume

• Attendee sheet

• Class time (e.g., one hour)

• Class handouts

• Test and answers

• Videotape (yes/no)

Budget:

• Cost for educator(s)

• Cost for preparation and classes

• Follow-up educator time

List Of Systems/Training Classes:

System 1 (sample):

• Basis of design & design criteria

• Single line flow diagram & sequence of operation

• Equipment performance curves

Operation scenarios:

• Seasonal startup & shutdown

• Emergency condition(s)

• Troubleshooting checklist

• PM workorder

• Trending data

Training Timeline:

Design phase:

• Introduction to basis of design

• Introduction to “________ system” (primary heating, etc.)

• Introduction to operating budget-energy (from building system simulation software)

• Introduction to operating budget-labor

Construction Phase:

• Participate in commissioning meetings

• Equipment training

• System training

• Participate in system start-ups

• Participate in system demonstrations

•Participation in system trending

Warranty Phase:

 • Ten month meeting with commissioning engineer and educator

In closing, the question needs to be asked, “Who is best qualified to provide the system training?” My suggestion is the equipment manufacturers are the best qualified to provide equipment training on their equipment and be prepared to participate in system training classes. When it comes to system training, it could be the design engineer or the commissioning engineer, because both will have a grasp of the overall system performance and interaction but most important is which of these individuals will be able to educate and not simply teach. This person (or persons) should be a good communicator, well organized with the preparation of lesson plans, and classroom material handouts.

Call me crazy but if you don’t think third-party system training needs to be a separate building program activity, let me introduce you to my four-year-old grandson. He’s anxious to try driving someone’s new car. For more on third-party training, go to my “Sustainable & Attainable” blog at www.esmagazine.com.



One More Thing

To continue on with my suggestion that system training be a provided by a third-party educator and not be imbedded in a competitive bid set of contract documents where training requirements are sprinkled through the 16 divisions of the contract specifications. It’s important to note that you can assume these specification section requirements addressing system training have not been coordinated by the design team and/or the specification writer. ES

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