Over the past two months, this column has focused on the building owner’s role in obtaining meaningful and timely training on new equipment and systems installed as part of major capital projects. O&M training is one of the most challenging parts of the commissioning process to do well.
It does not help that training is one of the last things that happens on a project, and many times the contractor personnel who know most about the project and its systems have moved on to different project commitments. In addition, O&M training has traditionally been delivered as seen fit by the contractors and not based on a training plan developed by others.
However, for projects in which the owner has invested in 3rd-party commissioning, the contractors should expect the owner to be serious about taking advantage of what that process entails — including a more thoughtful and rigorous training program. For contractors who want to step up and meet the owner’s expectations, I offer the following suggestions.
Embrace the Process
The commissioning professional should start asking about training early in construction. Arranging this will result in one less thing to coordinate and worry about towards the end of construction. This should be considered an opportunity and not a burden.
If the training plan has been developed during design and included in the construction documents, then contractors’ responsibilities are relatively straightforward. It is probably less effort to comply with any requirements to generate training agendas, identify trainers, and understand the owner’s scheduling preferences than to procrastinate and deal with “hounding” on the matter.
Assign Appropriate Trainers
The contractors need to take the time to listen to and understand the owner’s training needs. Only then will contractors be in a position to make suggestions for the most appropriate trainers. For example, if the owner wants to learn how to service and repair pumps in the future, a factory-authorized trainer may be best. If the owner just needs to understand where the pump is and from what electrical panel it draws its power, the installing contractor’s foreman might be most appropriate. If the owner wants to understand what the pump is for, how it fits into the overall system, and how it is controlled, the controls contractor might be the right choice.
Once the trainers are identified (by name and affiliation), that is a commitment by the contractor to the owner. Sending someone else on the day of training is a bait and switch the owner will not appreciate. I recently witnessed a training session where the contractor sent someone who apparently was available at the last minute on the scheduled day of training but who had no history with the project and no idea what the training was supposed to include. This was totally disrespectful to the owner and the personnel who made time in their busy schedules to be trained as promised.
Keep in mind the trainees’ availability to participate in training sessions. Most of the time, trainees have regular jobs to do and they are fitting training into busy schedules. In this case, they may only be able to support one to two hours of training each day and maybe only two to three days per week.
It is unrealistic to schedule a full day of back-to-back training sessions for anyone other than an owner who is building a new facility and hiring an entirely new crew of O&M staff to operate it. Even then, eight hours of non-stop training in a single day is usually more than most people can be expected to absorb. The intent is to meaningfully transfer knowledge, not to simply go through the motions of delivering information.
Maintain Simple but Complete Records
A commissioning-driven O&M training program benefits contractors by providing a framework in which the contractors can provide training once and document the owner’s/trainees’ acceptance of that training. This documentation can be extremely valuable in the future when/if the owner claims they did not receive appropriate training on a particular issue. Without the owner’s acceptance sign-off at the conclusion of each training session, the contractors risk the possibility of needing to deliver training again in order to satisfy a disgruntled owner.
Contractors can maintain documentation, organized for each training session defined in the training plan, which summarizes the training to be delivered (training agenda), includes an attendee sign-in section, and has a place for the owner to approve/accept the training when it is complete.
A happy, well trained owner will not only result in repeat project opportunities for the contractor but will also significantly reduce post-construction callbacks.