O&M Training Challenges
The design/construction process has made progress in several areas over the last 20 years. This is not one of those areas.
O&M staff training has always been a key component of new or renovated building systems commissioning. Just to name a few, the following professional commissioning guidelines all include confirmation of appropriate personnel training.
LEED Enhanced Commissioning requires verification that operating personnel training has been completed.
ASHRAE Guideline 0 includes O&M training requirements and verification.
The Building Commissioning Association’s Building Commissioning Handbook includes training coordination.
The AABC Commissioning Group’s ACG Commissioning Guideline includes the commissioning authority coordinating and scheduling the training with the contractor, owner, and design team.
I have been commissioning for a long time and have not seen a noticeable improvement in the quality of, organization of, and trainee interest in the training delivered by the construction team to the future operations team. My first column about training in Engineered Systems magazine was in June 1998 when I wrote, “Operations and maintenance (O&M) personnel training is typically a specified responsibility of the contractors installing new or modified equipment. However, the follow-through and delivery of that training has historically been haphazard at best and nearly non-existent in the worst cases.”
I can honestly say the same thing today. After 20 years, why hasn’t commissioning made a bigger impact on O&M training effectiveness? Although I am usually the O&M team’s biggest advocate, in this case I have to assign most of the responsibility to the building owner.
The commissioning process includes defining and specifying detailed O&M training requirements in the design phase of a project. The commissioning professional should be meeting with representatives of the trainees in order to customize the list of training sessions needed, the level of rigor expected for each, and the trainer qualifications (i.e., installer, start-up technician, factory representative). I know from experience that this meeting is very hard to schedule because the O&M representatives are typically “too busy” and they simply ask us to prepare the training plan for them.
When we do have a chance to hold a training planning meeting, it is often attended by O&M management who are more interested in being conservative and asking for everything without really understanding what their trainees will want and need to learn from each session.
In either case, a training plan that does not include direct input from the trainees will be off the mark from the beginning. Enforcing it will be very difficult because the trainees will not be motivated by or invested in the process.
As we approach the end of the project when O&M training should be delivered, the O&M staff almost invariably become too busy to participate in the training itself. Their priorities are set by management, and the owner’s O&M managers are focused on regular day-to-day activities and crises to be addressed immediately. It is understandable that operating and maintaining existing systems must go on. However, it is short-sighted to neglect learning about the new systems. That will only lead to more time being spent in the near and distant future working on, trying to figure out, and simply bungling along on equipment and systems the operators do not understand.
Lack of trainee enthusiasm coupled with O&M management not prioritizing training leads to ineffective training, which is a waste of everyone’s time. Is there anything the commissioning professional can do to help the building owner despite him/herself? Some type of archived training may be the answer. The following are some ideas for best-value future training materials.
Equipment O&M Manuals can be thoroughly reviewed for comprehensiveness, accuracy, and customization for the new equipment which will eventually need maintenance, troubleshooting, or repair.
The commissioning scope can include development of a systems manual, something required for LEED Enhanced Commissioning.
Digital records of formal training intended to be delivered live to current operators but, instead, staged for a videographer only.
These archived training materials could be accessed in the near future if current building operators are eventually motivated to figure out how the new systems are intended to function. They could also be accessed later when/if personnel changes or additions result in changing priorities or in more resources being dedicated to understanding systems operations.