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How Training Impacts Performance and Reliability

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The United States energy industry has seen its share of events, hurdles, and challenges in recent years, including blackouts and loss of load events. These issues may pale for the individual utility when compared to potential reliability challenges that utility may face in the short term. Three of these challenges include:

1) the aging utility workforce with its subsequent loss of knowledge on the transmission and        distribution systems

2) risk challenges, especially regarding human error, one of the highest impacting categories affecting reliability

3) managing a training program not only for compliance, but also sustainability and success

These challenges are interrelated in several ways, but none more central than the individual and the training available to that individual. In this post, we look at these three challenges, the reliability consequences of each, and how your organization can stay ahead of these potential issues.

Utilities face significant shifts in their business and operational paradigms brought about by many factors. The most important of which are the changes to their workforce, human performance issues which result in potential risk challenges, and relying on the status quo of a compliant program to lead the utility into this “new” future. 

Many utility publications express concerns regarding the loss of knowledge in both transmission and distribution systems as the current generation of operators rapidly approaches retirement age. This loss is estimated at 20% in the coming years. Such loss of knowledge and skills, if not effectively retained in a knowledge base or Systematic Approach to Training, can be debilitating to your utility. This situation can significantly impact reliability, as the new operations staff brought on board may not have captured the “Why’s” and “How To’s” of operating a utility’s system. By including this knowledge and skills in a Systematic Approach to Training process as part of an overall comprehensive and sustainable training program, your training can support the bridge to the next generation of system operators.

Human performance non-compliance issues are a potential reliability risk as noted in recent NERC and Regional Reliability Organization publications. In the 2016 WECC State of the Interconnection, individual human performance non-compliance issues were the largest single category of non-compliance in the WECC region.  These types of issues increase the potential for reliability risk when a utility lacks detailed procedures and relies on the knowledge of individuals to maintain or operate a system.  When those reliability risks associated with human performance issues are included in a Systematic Approach to Training process as part of an overall comprehensive and sustainable training program, training can help minimize the overall risks to utility operations.

Finally, if the training program for utility personnel is simply aimed at maintaining compliance with regulatory requirements, potential reliability risks can result from an overly narrow view of the value of training. As previously discussed, workforce challenges and human performance issues can be overcome through training. If your training program is simply focused on maintaining compliance, you may be missing opportunities to increase your staff’s knowledge of your system and prepare them for your workforce’s future needs (such as Distributed Energy Resources), which is essential to maintaining reliability of your transmission and distribution systems. Understanding what knowledge and skills are needed, developing a gap analysis, and creating a plan to train your staff will assist that sustainability.

Even though there are many potential challenges to your system’s operations, training is an indispensable part of the plan to minimize your reliability risk in transmission and distribution operations. Developing and implementing your plan for the current and future state of your utility and its reliability and regulatory needs is what a Systematic Approach to Training provides. A comprehensive, Systematic Approach to Training should be part of the answer to your present and future training challenges.

Melissa Sease's picture

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