4 Nuclear Training Truths to Live By

Safe, efficient nuclear plant operation is dependent upon rigorous design, excellent material condition, and first class nuclear training. However, ultimate responsibility for operational excellence rests with the skilled and alert people who we trust to operate and maintain our plants.

nuclear operations training

Those of us trained in the nuclear Navy can relate to Admiral Rickover’s observation that:

“There is no substitute for the alert, well-trained operator controlling equipment within specified operating bands in accordance with approved procedures.”

As the Admiral stated so well, there is a real two-way link between operational excellence and training excellence.  These two functions cannot be treated as separate and independent units.  You can’t have world-class operations without excellent nuclear training.  And you can’t be excellent in training without having training firmly rooted in operations / production.

The pivotal question is how do we achieve this?  So today I want to share some insights and lessons I have learned during my 30 years helping organizations achieve operational and training excellence.

Nuclear Training: An Investment in Performance

Simply stated, training we provide must “add value” by helping us meet our strategic initiatives and performance goals.  After many consequential industrial accidents and events confirming the important role of training, training continues to be done by “mandate”, managers sending people to training because they have to.

Equally egregious, training organizations spew their material, giving little consideration to the current needs of the students.  While students try to tell us training is wasting their time, are we really listening?

The death nail is when they eventually stop telling us, the telltale symptom: the organization’s respect for training has hit rock bottom.

Developing and delivering exceptional training isn’t easy. It takes time, commitment and resources – all scarce commodities. But what we have seen too many times, if we don’t make the investment now, we’ll pay a high price later.

Many organizations fail to learn this lesson when they are surprised by sudden increases in consequential personnel errors or as they continue to experience “flavor-of-the-month” failed initiatives to improve performance.

What is the solution?  We must view training as an investment in future efficiency that if designed and delivered effectively, can pay big dividends.

Organizations that align their training priorities with improvement initiatives are typically the best performing.  They achieve excellent plant efficiency and reliability rooted in significant improvements in human performance and industrial safety.

Given today’s competitive and rapidly changing environment, we must constantly look for ways to improve efficiency and performance.  This requires versatility and adaptability on the part of our people.

A critical element in managing complex change is ensuring our people have the skills they need to do their jobs well.  Without this, our attempts to change are doomed to failure.  We must give our people the information, skills and support they need to embrace change, or they’ll reject it.  Rather than being motivated to change, they’ll be gridlocked with anxiety.

So, here are four “training-truths” that set apart leaders and organizations that excel from those that continue to languish in mediocrity.

nuclear performance improvement

Nuclear Training Truth #1 – Training is an Integral Part of the Performance Equation

Training is a means to an end – performance. Our training programs must be aligned to support performance.  We should design them to answer these basic questions:

How can we improve nuclear worker and organizational performance? When an event or near miss occurs, investigations should consider how training fits into the solution.  The best corrective action processes ensure a training specialist is assigned to causal evaluation teams when human performance is a suspected contributing cause.

Important indicators such as production rates, human error rates, and maintenance rework rates, etc. must be monitored to detect emerging gaps that might be closed with training.  And most importantly, managers and trainers should have a consistent presence in the field, observing work and soliciting improvement ideas and performance needs from their people.

What are we asking our people to do differently? As our organizational needs continue to evolve, we expect our employees to take on new and diverse responsibilities. Many of them stand ready to accept these new assignments, however we must ensure they possess the required knowledge and skills to do so. If our people don’t have the skills they need to do their jobs well, our attempts to improve are doomed to failure.

What nuclear training should we provide? We must determine the gap in the current employee skill level and requirements for the future organization, then train accordingly. This requires teamwork between line mangers, first line supervisors and trainers, and direct involvement by “front line” workers.  Everyone must work together to ensure training addresses performance needs and that instruction emulates actual work conditions and standards.

How can we ensure nuclear performance improves? Our strategic initiatives and performance goals need to be regularly revisited to ensure we are achieving desired results. Additionally, we must employ a reliable set of performance indicators, coupled with a rigorous on-going self-assessment process. Nothing, however, can replace observing field work and talking with our people to determine effectiveness.

If your nuclear training programs are focused on meeting regulatory requirements rather than answering these questions, then you’re probably not maximizing your investment.

Often organizations miss opportunities to jump-start plant performance through effective use of initial training.  Initial training programs are a prime opportunity to quickly inculcate the next generation of standards into the actual work environment.

Organizations that use their initial training programs wisely experience a dramatic improvement in organizational performance in a relatively short time when they apply stringent student selection criteria; properly design and sequence initial training programs; maintain a strong leader presence during the training; and support the new workers when they began their jobs.

nuclear training business

Nuclear Training Truth #2 – Training is Core Business

Leaders and workers must view training as an integral part of our core business. Training must be considered the organizational equal of production, operations and maintenance. And it must be thoroughly integrated with those functions.

We must set a clear and undeniable expectation that the production organization is co-accountable with their training counterparts for the performance of their training programs. If their training programs fail, then they have failed. Production and nuclear training personnel should be able to clearly articulate the current challenges in the plant and how they are using training to address them.

While many people say they understand this principle, often their words are inconsistent with their actions. When a performance problem occurs, training should be one of the first organizations contacted for help.

When new nuclear equipment or processes are proposed, associated training costs should be included. When new tools and equipment are purchased, the need for training should be considered prior to implementation.  Maintaining high quality training areas should be a priority in the budget.

The accreditation renewal process is another key indicator of how well nuclear training is integrated into core activities. A plant with effective nuclear training in place should require minimal preparation. Its overriding goal is not to achieve accreditation renewal, but to achieve excellent performance through training.

I use the word “excellent” because in addition to denoting quality, it conveys a spirit of surpassing expectations.  If training is truly part of the core business, it will help the organization improve every day.  If training effectiveness is not closely linked with business effectiveness that should be a warning sign.

Nuclear Training Truth #3 – Production Leaders Play a Critical Role 

Many organizations learn the hard way that their leaders must be demanding customers. They are, after all, the recipients of what our training programs produce. We must understand that today’s training performance is most certainly tomorrow’s work performance.

No leader can be a passive bystander.  Production personnel must be committed to observing the quality of training first hand. When observing, they must be particularly sensitive to inconsistencies between training and work practices and standards. If a difference exists, then either the training is wrong or the work performance is wrong.

One or both must be brought quickly in line.  If not, the reality is we are wasting training and learning opportunities because training is viewed just as a required function.

Leaders must use their training programs to solve problems and learn new and innovative ways to get the job done.  When problems do occur, they should use the training organization to help solve them. This may include training or other performance solutions, such as clarifying expectations, developing a job aid, or applying consequence management.

nuclear training leaders

Nuclear Training Truth #4 – Trainers as Leaders

A critical lesson many fail to learn is that great consideration must be given to selecting trainers.  Trainers must be picked from the ranks of our best plant performers – people who have a desire and proven ability to teach. They must be recognized role models with high credibility and unwavering integrity.

They must be willing to uphold our work standards and expectations. They must possess exceptional knowledge and skill in the subject being taught.  And they must ensure that a systematic process is used to provide training that adds value. Using trainers who don’t reflect these attributes could create a potentially dangerous work environment.

Summary

As we respond to our changing environment, just-in-time training has become the norm. Technologies such as computerization and simulation are now commonplace in training.  This allows us opportunities as never before to develop new and better ways to get the job done in the safe and controlled training environment.

Investigations for many consequential industrial failures challenged leaders to rethink the importance of training. They learned that nuclear trainers need to be skilled performance analysts and educators.  Leaders must be committed to maintaining high quality training settings. Most importantly, a true partnership must be fostered between the production and training organizations.

Today, not knowing the performance in your organization, I encourage you to consider some important lessons from the experiences of those before us:

Mutual ownership and accountability for nuclear plant and training performance must continue. Production leaders must continue to demonstrate ownership by driving program content, reinforcing expectations, conducting observations, and providing substantive feedback.  Training must continue to support the production needs using a systematic process.

Production leaders must clearly understand the role training plays in solving performance issues.  Is training experience considered in your succession planning?  How do you acclimate new production leaders with their roles and responsibilities regarding the organization, content, and implementation of training programs?

With this said, I leave you with this thought from Abigail Adams “Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.”

Did you enjoy this article? Here are a couple other articles you may like to read:

Click the link to learn about improving the quality of comprehensive assessments in nuclear training.

Click the link to learn what makes a great nuclear training organization.

2 thoughts on “4 Nuclear Training Truths to Live By”

  1. I am not sure if you allocated enough space here to provide you a half decent response to your truths about nuclear training. The facts are the facts. The Nuclear Power industry is a dying industry. Not much can be done to prevent its near end. As you and your associates know very well that “training” is one of the activities that suffers first when budgets are reduced and or not available. The nuclear power industry has relied all along on the knowledge based experience of the work force that it has had for years. Unfortunately, a significant segment of the work force is exiting the industry each and every month. The flight out of the industry is due to aging workforce, significant issues with upper management, job demands, remoteness of the work place, the constant never ending chilling of workers, lack of career options, lack of training, discriminatory practices by management, a broken employee concerns program, and of course a broken corrective action process. Many have seen and experienced first hand that upper management is normally chosen not based on leadership, experience and knowledge, but on the old good old boy club that only matters who you know and who is willing to look the other way. Those in the club are the ones chosen to be provided with training that is only valued by the good old boys club, such as INPO training, Harvard school of development, and other such management development training designated only for those special ones. Understand that not everyone wants to be a manager. Most industry worker simply seek to have a job where they are respected, recognized and where they can reap the rewards of first class and excellent training. Training has suffered and will continue to suffer under the circumstances that the Nuclear Power Industry finds itself currently. Great concepts and ideals that you provided here, but the reality is that most managers are presently pressed for how budgets can be reduced, how to reduce the workforce while continuing to do the same amount of work, and trying to keep units running under all circumstances. Training is usually the last thought in a manager’s mind evidenced by the lack of funding allocations in plant yearly budgets. Great concepts that you have here but training is not what it used to be and will continue to be reduced as the nuclear power industry passes to a lost existence. The best that can be hoped is that individuals take it upon themselves to have personal commitment to seek and complete training in order to accomplish their jobs with a high level of quality. Admiral Rickover was absolutely correct. Nuclear training is essential for successful plant operations without events. There is more but I will stop at this point. Thank you.

    1. It doesn’t take much research to quickly determine that Nuclear Power is, in fact, NOT a dying industry (globally). From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_power:

      “As of April 2018, there are 449 civilian fission reactors in the world, with a combined electrical capacity of 394 gigawatt (GW). There are also 58 nuclear power reactors under construction and 154 reactors planned, with a combined capacity of 63 GW and 157 GW, respectively. As of January 2019, 337 more reactors were proposed. Most reactors under construction are generation III reactors in Asia.”

      Where you will find little disagreement is how (most industries) approach training — but that’s a symptom of a bigger problem. Early in my 30 year career as a technologist, I learned a valuable lesson: “it’s easy to create data but very difficult to manage.” Orphaned content long bereft of truth and value litter the planet and are poorly regurgitated and Frankenstiened at the high cost of “safety” and “training” colored inside the tired and faded lines of today’s training programs/systems and (ack!) classrooms.

      But hey, it’s 2019 and we’ve come a long way; enter content management technology offering a single, authoritative source for content that can be accessed from anywhere on any device (and managed in ONE place). It’s a thing, you know.

      If the boomers in the US are retiring out, and the fiercely liberal can’t see the value of clean, safe, sustainable nuclear power, then it may very well die in the commercial US (NOT the defense sector). But, the US has been slipping in many areas for quite sometime.

      Regarding your comments about current leadership Jose, here’s an idea: “out with the old and in with the new.”

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