No. 8 in my top 10 elements of commissioning is training of future building operators. No matter how technically successful a project’s functional performance testing is, if the people responsible for maintaining proper operation of the new systems do not know what they need to do and why, system performance and efficiency will likely start to degrade immediately upon turnover. This is not because an owner’s facilities operations team is incompetent or indifferent, it's because building systems are no longer clearly understood just by looking at the installed pieces and parts.
Although operator training by the construction team has long been an industry-standard construction project requirement, its execution has been allowed to wither into a project closeout box to check with as little effort as practical. There are many reasons for this, and any “blame” lies with all parties, including the building owner, who have not taken the training requirement seriously. I don’t want to rehash the past, but I do want to outline how training can be delivered in a meaningful and efficient way under the guidance of commissioning professionals.
During the design phase, the project specifications need to be customized to match the owner’s needs. The standard industry training specification templates are too generic to be included without customization and clarification regarding how training needs to be applied to the project at hand. The commissioning professional can facilitate and document this customization process by serving as a bridge between future building operators and the design and construction team.
A training plan matrix identifying all equipment and systems for which the facilities staff believe they need training is a simple way of documenting the owner’s expectations. Depending on the experience and capabilities of the operations team, there may be equipment for which they feel comfortable without formal training and other equipment they have never seen before. In the former case, the owner may simply want to be shown where all of the equipment is and how to access it. In the latter case, detailed training on the equipment’s theory of operation, preventive maintenance requirements, and troubleshooting processes may be in order.
Including such a training plan matrix in the bid specifications will bind contractors to delivering a clearly defined training program. The matrix can also serve as a tool for training scheduling and coordination during the construction phase when the commissioning professional can continue to serve as a liaison between contractors and trainees. It’s important to ensure training is scheduled at times trainees can attend and before the facilities operations team is expected to operate and maintain the new equipment and systems on their own.
Beyond the traditional new equipment-focused training sessions, this process also needs to include systems-level training for building operators to learn how all the individual components are connected and work together as integrated systems. The closest traditional training comes to this would be the building automation system (BAS) training. However, controls technicians do not necessarily understand the full design intent of why the systems are configured and controlled the way they are. Also, in today’s high-performance buildings, systems beyond the BAS are intended to communicate and integrate with each other to provide optimal performance.
I strongly recommend developing a separate “systems training” program that involves the design engineers, BAS contractor, fire alarm contractor, lighting controls contractor, commissioning professional, and any other project team members who have contributed to the critical-yet-intangible elements of the a building’s operation.
One of the ironic challenges of the end-of construction training program is that some building owners struggle to have their trainees attend the planned sessions. There are all kinds of reasons for this, most commonly emergencies and other job responsibilities. However, priorities need to be set and contingencies planned for ahead of time, because mobilizing a training session without the trainees is not part of any contractor’s responsibility. The opportunity for a redo may result in a change order and/or schedule extension. The owner’s facilities staff needs to be as committed to and engaged in the training program as we expect the contractors to be.
Operator training is an investment in the future for the owner. The transfer of preventive maintenance, troubleshooting, and operational intent information from the design and construction team to the facilities staff is critical for the continued safe, effective, and efficient operation of the new systems for years to come. It should also result in fewer emergencies and occupant complaints.
Building owners often want to have some or all training sessions recorded for use in educating current and future operations staff who can’t attend the end-of-construction, in-person training. This can take a variety of formats. The owner’s preferred deliverable needs to be specified in the contract documents along with team member responsibilities and acceptance quality criteria unambiguously defined.
Reinventing the new construction and major renovation training process has fallen under the commissioning umbrella, and the commissioning professional is perfectly situated between the owner’s facilities operations group and the project team to facilitate a successful and meaningful transfer of knowledge. Without it, much of the value gained by commissioning the new systems may be quickly lost after building turnover.