Guest blog by Ian Travers

This challenging question was posed by John Bresland and Ian Travers in the September edition of ‘The Chemical Engineer’. In this blog Ian Travers (Director & Principal Consultant at Ian Travers Ltd & Leidos) briefly explains who should run your plant at the most vulnerable time and how to select the right people.

The people that should

The answer should be of course the right number of skilled and competent process engineers and plant operators who can cope with any normal or abnormal situation which arises at a complex chemical plant or refinery, without any immediate on-site backup from managers or technical specialists.

The question is meant to ensure that there is certainty about the skills and competence levels at this more vulnerable period of time, rather than for companies to hope and expect appropriate cover only to discover there were gaps once a catastrophic incident has occurred.

So just how do companies secure the right levels of skill and what training is available around the world to support the appointment of skilled and competent technicians and is any one country better at this than others?

How to select the right people

Our research found that there are no standardized approaches to recruitment and training within the sector around the world. It is very much ‘horses for courses’ which ensures flexibility but leaves the door open for a wide variation in the minimum skill set for nighttime supervision. However, there are some common themes associated with having a Degree or Higher Degree in process engineering for oversight roles and a ‘locally’ defined or accepted a normal level of technical qualification for all plant operational roles.

Leaving aside the National Service elements, the system in Singapore of a fully integrated high school through to technical qualification framework forms a useful benchmark of good practice. Oil refining and chemical manufacturing facilities are becoming more complex, with new advanced process controls being used in most facilities. There is continued pressure from communities and stakeholder groups for incident-free operations of facilities. An incident at a chemical plant or an oil refinery can quickly cost a company very significant amounts of money, from lost production, lawsuits, rebuilding costs etc. Process technicians are at the front line of safe and efficient day-to-day operation. They need to be well-educated and trained.

Encouragingly, process technician jobs in the oil and chemical industries are desirable and pay more than the industrial average. Academic studies have shown that companies can save training by hiring process technicians who have a two-year degree in chemical process technology (PTEC). The oil and chemical industries should move further in the direction of hiring process technicians who have a two-year associates degree in process technology and the oil and chemical industry and colleges and universities should collaborate in developing programs for candidates who wish to have a career in the industries.

For more information, download the article from The Chemical Engineer here: