In Search of the Perfect Operator Qualification Program

When it comes to Operator Qualification (OQ), it seems that finding that perfect mix of written testing, on-the-job training, and field evaluations still eludes many professionals in the natural gas industry. How can Part 192, Subpart N, and Part 195, Subpart G, in all its simplicity, become so convoluted across individual utility systems? Why is one OQ test or field evaluation recognized by some utilities and not others? In many cases they are identical tests.

natural gas technicianHow can operators maintain a sense of uniform consistency to ensure all natural gas personnel receive the best training possible? There is a solution, but that solution requires operators to come together and establish an industry standard which will be the basis for all training. To many, such a statement sends up so many red flags that it is hard to imagine that there could be one uniformed training program that fits all natural gas utilities or systems. However, it is possible.

Let’s take a moment and consider our military training programs. How do you think they are able to fulfill global training of their personnel with such uniformed precision yet maintain flexibility? They do not attain professional knowledge just from basic or technical training. Training continues throughout their career; as they transfer from one station to another, that baseline training follows. The difference is that a military person receives supplemental training based on regional or command differences. Thus, each installation, career field, or command center does not have to duplicate their efforts by reinventing a whole new training program for each task. They only have to introduce the supplemental changes in their training program based on how the baseline qualifications are performed for that given region or command.

Currently, if an employee leaves one utility for another, that person must retake many of the same OQ tests and evaluations that they were already qualified to perform. Additionally, many contractors must re-qualify every time they are contracted to fulfill projects for a different utility system. Such duplication of effort only undermines the quality of training that we could accomplish. Shouldn’t our professional individuals receive baseline training which includes set guidelines for recurring training after a certain number of years? Then, during those years that they are baseline qualified, they would only have to fulfill those supplemental training tasks required by given regions or companies. Further, what if a region or company does not require supplemental training? That individual would only have to address those new qualifications required to perform their duties.

It is time we streamline our operator qualification process. We as industry leaders need to put together a committee to determine the knowledge and baseline procedures that should be expected of all technicians across all company and regional boundaries. Just as operators can only expand on the requirements of 192 and 195, so too can utilities only expand on the baseline qualifications for the sake of regional and company differences. This will allow everyone in the industry to maintain uniformity in baseline knowledge.

In order to manage such an undertaking, we as an industry can form a committee of experienced operators, including both managers and technicians, to perform yearly audits to ensure the baseline training system remains intact across all boundaries. Further, this committee can review the supplemental training programs to ensure they do not compromise the integrity of the baseline program.

As we imagine the possibilities of such a program, we immediately see a reduction in duplication of effort from all personnel within the industry. This would be a streamlined process that allows for a more cohesive training program, yet it is not restrictive in nature and allows each utility system the ability to maintain the flexibility necessary to fulfill their corporate and regional qualification requirements. Let us step back and consider the possibilities of such a streamlined program including: financial savings, structured progression of operator qualifications, alleviation of redundancy, and a uniform, highly skilled workforce. Is that not what our industry strives to achieve?

By: William Luttrell