Successfully Managing a Changing Workforce – Application to Process Safety Management
By: Charles A. Soczek, Principal Consultant (Retired), DuPont Sustainable Solutions
Many companies around the globe are faced with the difficult challenge of managing workforce change in a time when budgets are tight, pressures to decrease costs and improving productivity are high, and there is still an expectation to maintain safe operations. This is not a new challenge, but workforce changes are even more complex than in the past.
The Channel Industries Mutual Aid (CIMA) is a cooperative
organization of over 100 emergency response agencies in the Texas
counties of Harris, Chambers, and Brazoria and industrial fire
departments from the petrochemical, chemical, and refining operations.
They were formed in 1955 under the name of Ship Channel Industries
Disaster Aid Organization. They have 60 years’ worth of serious
industrial accident records. The head of CIMA believes the single most
significant factor in incident increases is when the workforce changes
as a result of new processes and major shutdowns.
In today’s environment, companies have much more sophisticated
technologies and streamlined supply chains, and mistakes can have
severe consequences. The problems are compounded by the fact that many
companies have a large number of retirees, a large number of new
employees entering the workforce for the first time, and few in the
New engineers entering the workforce today have an extraordinary
broad range of skills. Successful companies will take advantage of
what these new employees bring by changing work processes to be
increasingly efficient and productive, while still utilizing the
experiences of the more senior workforce.
DuPont Sustainable Solutions (DSS) has identified a multi-part
process to help companies thrive in this time of workforce change.
This paper will explore key characteristics of new employees entering
the workforce today and will outline the steps developed at DSS to
meet the needs of this new type of employee. The goal of these changes
is to ultimately provide a suitable working environment and improve
employee retention which will have the added benefit of improving
process safety performance.
Managing Highly Hazardous Operations
Successful safe operations in high hazards process industries
require talented engineers with broad ranges of skills and experience.
This includes chemical, mechanical, instrument, and electrical
engineers who are involved in conception, design, construction, and
operations. They build and modify facilities, and keep the plants
running efficiently and safely. They work on longer range problems to
implement safety, cost, and capacity improvements. Most operations run
around the clock, 24/7, 365 days per year, occasionally interrupted by
breakdowns in equipment. Because of this, engineers that support
operations need to be available at all times to assist in the
resolution of problems. Engineers plan and execute the maintenance and
inspection programs. They are doing this today with fewer people,
tighter budgets, and greater demands for production. Workforce
changes, whether a result of retirements, transfers, leaving for
better opportunities, or other reasons can put a great strain on the
remaining workforce, and on the new people on the job.
Manufacturing operations have always required personnel with skills,
experience, and the much more elusive and difficult to define
characteristic, wisdom, which couples skill and experience with good
judgement. Engineers learn their basic skills in college, refine and
expand them in industry, and add new experiences along the way.
Experience and wisdom can reside anywhere in the organization, in
practicing engineers, line management, and also in the operators and
their supervision. Experience is gained not only from direct
operational experience, but also from incidents that have occurred in
related companies and industries. People in the workforce who combine
their experiences with a sense that hazardous events can happen in
their operations bring sound judgement. They continuously seek to
avoid events that can have bad consequences.
The role of immediate supervisor to new engineers is critical. Much
has been made in recent years of the need to achieve a work-life
balance. Many millennials, or generation Y (those born from the
mid-1980s to the mid1990s), achieve a work-life blend, where one is
not entirely separate from the other. Technology allows employees to
work anywhere, anytime. The impact of this is that people will need to
be judged by performance, not presence.
Skills and Qualities of Engineers who have Recently Entered the
There is a lot of information on the generational traits of
millennials. However, it is wise to not assume that all entering
engineers have these qualities, as there are significant differences
between individuals. With that caveat, let’s looks at some of the more
important traits that can impact a millennial’s process safety
management (PSM) performance. Some of these may be considered positive
aspects, and some negative.
General Traits of Millennials,
from Sally Kane on Generation Y (1), (millennials, born in the
mid-80s or later)
Smart phones, tablets, email, text messaging, Twitter, Facebook,
LinkedIn and whatever new comes along is candy for engineers. They use
these devices and tools to stay in continuous communication with each
other with little distinction between personal and work life. They
prefer these forms of electronic communication versus phone calls and
face-to-face. Printed materials are avoided wherever possible. While
previous generations may feel something is lost with mostly electronic
interaction, millennials have been educated using electronic tools,
and can use them while maintaining a personal touch. With these tools,
they can work anywhere, anytime. For example, a parent needs to leave
at 3 to pick a child up at day care, but after 8, when children are in
bed, the parent works until 11, and communicates with others who are
“Generation Y have a different vision of workplace expectations and
prioritize family over work.” This can create some difficulties for an
engineer in manufacturing operations. Shift cover for start-ups and
other operating problems can greatly interfere with family life. Many
married engineers from two-working-parent families or who are single
parents demand flexible work schedules. Many companies have adjusted
to this by incorporating core work hours, such as 9 to 3, where all
employees are present. Achievement Oriented “Generation Y wants
meaningful work and a solid learning curve.” They want these good
assignments to gain experiences as well as a reputation for getting
the job done. In particular, the first assignment is critical if a
company hopes to retain talent. There is also an expectation of
“They value teamwork and seek input and affirmation of others.” They
have been involved in team activities their whole lives, from sports
to an educational process that involves working together to solve
complex engineering problems.
“Generation Y craves attention in forms of feedback and guidance.
They appreciate being kept in the loop and seek frequent praise and
reassurance.” This can be a problem for supervisors heading an
organization with a very large number of engineers versus previous
Some misconceptions about millennials are that they are spoiled,
immature, and lazy. These are character traits of individuals, not a
generation. Many millennials are highly motivated and expect to move
up rapidly in an organization.
The millennials, or Generation Y, are generally thought of as being
born between the mid-80s to the mid-90s. After the millennials comes
Generation Z, those born after 1995. They are only now beginning to
enter the workforce, and will have some general characteristics that
distinguish them from the millennials. Laura Montini (2) gave some
characteristics of generation z. They prefer person to person
interaction and they come to the workforce well prepared. Both
generation Y and Z say honesty is the most important quality of a good leader.
Integrating New Engineers into High Hazards Operations
The large number of new engineers entering the workforce makes it a
challenge to continue safe operations. Faced with this challenge, a
small cross-generational group in DSS was identified with the purpose
of defining the keys for a successful integration of new employees
into high-hazard operations. The objective was to develop a process
that could be used with minimal changes for engineers entering the
workforce. The process starts with understanding what is important to
the engineers and the company, then moves to identifying action items,
and finally developing and implementing plans.
A six-sigma process to identify key areas, develop the CTQ (items
critical to quality) and the CTXs (a factor that impacts the CTQ) was
used. Initially six key areas were identified and developed. This was
later expanded to eight. Most of these areas were drawn from practices
at DuPont sites
1. Critical functions and skills need to be identified
This step identifies not only the functions and skills for today,
but seeks those required in the future to assure competitiveness.
There is clarity in what is done internally, and what is outsourced.
This also includes the identification of “Technology Guardians.”
Technology Guardians are senior technical employees who oversee a wide
range of activities over a single or group of processes for a long
period of time. They help assure continued safe operation. For
example, this includes review of all proposed changes within a given
process. Career development of a guardian is critical. In some cases,
this is accomplished by providing gradually expanding responsibilities
to cover multiple facilities or additional processes.
2. Individual Competency Development Plans
These plans help assure growth of all personnel, but can go a long
way in retaining individuals that are necessary for future success. It
is important that development plans meet the need of the company as
well as individuals.
3. Succession Planning for all Critical Positions (note: identification of critical positions is the first step in process to manage a changing workforce. For example, in PSM, a PHA leader would be a critical position.)
These are up to five-year projections of new hires, promotions,
reassignments, and retirements. These plans need to be periodically
reviewed with senior management.
4. Knowledge Transfer Management
Leveraging of experienced personnel is necessary through assignment, coaching, and mentoring, along with the development of technical databases that can be easily accessed.
5. Use of Blended Learning Approaches
Individual training plans are developed, and personnel are encouraged to participate in internal and external opportunities. Modern training methods include less lecturing, and more doing.
6. Cultivate Learning Communities
Leadership is strong on driving involvement of engineers in internal and external networks.
7. On-Boarding Process for New Employees
The on-boarding process is critical to the success of new employees. Two key factors in this are assigning challenging and meaningful initial assignments, and using a mentorship program.
8. Cultural Environment
This is a multi-faceted subject that can require a company to evolve to take advantage of the workforce skills and expectations of employees entering the workforce for the first time. Examples include an environment that is sensitive to the needs of women, promoting teamwork for problem solving, and valuing speed in implementation. For instance, a company has an older phone system that doesn’t pick up a woman’s higher pitched voice, or the company does not allow employees to work from home when needed, such as caring for a sick child. Maternity leave also continues to be an important subject.
Below is an example of some of the CTXs for the initial on-boarding
of a new employee. These are given in the form of questions that an
organization can use to gain feedback from their new employees and
Questions for the new employee:
Questions for the new employee:
With ongoing changes and the loss of process safety experience,
organizations can be put under great stress. In particular, the direct
supervisors of new employees will face the greatest challenges.
Typically, start-ups of new facilities often require junior engineers
to work shifts. This can range from a few days to weeks or even
months, greatly disrupting the lives of engineers who may have more
family obligations than previous generations. New engineers entering
the workforce have less loyalty to an organization they hire into as a
result of company policy changes, the need for rapid promotion, and
pay increases that may not meet their expectations. Increased span of
control for a supervisor means less time with employees.
1. Generation Y. (2014, December 16). Retrieved from http://legalcareers.about.com/od/practicetips/a/GenerationY.htm
2. Montini, L. (2014, September 2) Generation Z: Meeting your future