Power complex utilizes outside training

John Kolak
Consultant for NTT

Maintaining high productivity and strong company systems in a dynamically growing, multi-site power plant complex can pose numerous problems, particularly in training. Many power companies find that to assure training won’t be compromised, it becomes imperative to bring in outside vendors.

Such was the case with Calpine, an independent energy provider in the U.S. After acquiring 16 power plants and employees for its geothermal power generation complex north of Santa Rosa, Calif., Calpine was faced with the challenge of establishing a unified employee training program.

Traditionally, Calpine had been using a very strong in-house training program for their training needs and had initially planned to do the same for the Santa Rosa complex. However, the problem of training employees in 16 different plants, each with their own level of training and experience from previous employers, led Calpine to seek a more inventive solution.

“As we acquired plants, our company had taken over a number of different training programs,” said Chris Johnson, Health and Safety Specialist at Calpine. “We had to stop, take a step back and look at how we could best assure that everyone had the same understanding of one set of rules, regulations and policies.”

To solve this problem, Calpine decided to outsource the assignment to an independent training provider, National Technology Transfer (NTT) of Englewood, Colo.

Benefits of outsourced training

Independent training companies like NTT have unique experience and expertise to supplement in-house training departments. In some cases, the sheer size of the training project may overwhelm internal resources and external training contractors can “bridge the gap” between the need and the available training resources.

In Calpine’s case, an outside provider was able to effectively integrate the training practices of 16 facilities, a number of them newly acquired, and establish one standard for the entire division.

Another advantage for Calpine was that effective outside trainers could ensure up-to-date knowledge and experience on the most current governmental regulations and safety procedures. This was particularly helpful in the area of OSHA-electrical safety, where the training provider was able to assess Calpine’s programs to assure they are in compliance with OSHA regulations and “best practices” in the electrical industry.

The acquisition of generating facilities also presented unique challenges. Calpine knew that running a power plant requires specialized knowledge. Calpine’s experience suggested a need for consistency in employees’ understanding of one set of electrical safety requirements. Therefore, Calpine thought it imperative to train power plant employees on a uniform set of work practices to protect them and the facility. Moreover, given the monumental task internal training departments may have staying current on the changing regulations, using outside training contractors was a cost-effective alternative.

Outside training reduces accidents, downtime

Calpine felt this training solution contributed to measurable improvements in employees’ technical knowledge and understanding of electrical safety issues. These improvements have led to better performance, which translates to a significant return on investment on the training budget.

“There hasn’t been an electrically related near miss since we instituted the training a year ago,” said Johnson. “By avoiding near misses, we were able to prevent accidents and downtime. Additionally, when employees go home safe and come back to work the next day, they know management cares about and respects them, so they in turn work harder and better, thereby enhancing productivity.”

Calpine allowed all employees to provide input into the training, which greatly facilitated employee “buy-in” to the standardized processes.

John Kolak, Consultant for NTT
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Kolak is a certified safety professional with 24 years experience in the electric utility industry. NTT is a training outsourcing provider serving power producers with hands-on technical training seminars and classes. For more information, email dave@zlokower.com.

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