By Stephany Romanow
Following college graduation, many promising new engineers join
the ranks of hydrocarbon processing industry (HPI) facilities to continue the operation
and support of present day complexes around the world. These
new hires will attend job orientation programs that differ
widely due to the size, primary business and cultures of the
Differences. As it was when we,
todays more experienced engineers, first joined the ranks
of professional engineers, the new hires still lack experience
about the HPI and real world. These knowledge gaps must be
closed; various means can be used to bridge the gaps such as
structured training curriculums, job rotations, and, most
important, mentoring programs.
Lost knowledge. The HPI is facing dire
times as many of the trained/experienced engineers from the
late 1960s and 1970s are seriously planning their exit from
full-time work to their well-deserved retirement. Management
did not see or failed to plan for this massive exit of
well-experienced group of profession. Layoffs from the 1980s
and 1990s did major damage. Young graduates avoided the oil and
gas and downstream businesses due to highly volatile employment
trends. Bright undergraduates found a growing attraction to the
information technology (IT) sector.
Lost opportunities. The yo-yo staffing and
resizing trends of the 80s and 90 squandered
valuable time to train the technical replacements now needed.
Just like any professional sports team, new recruits are
invited to join the team while management focuses on the best
recruits to foster and to train for the next generation of
players. Sadly, this next-generation of HPI trainees did not
take form due to downsizing, rightsizing or poor advancement
options within the industry.
What now? For the next decade, companies
will be actively looking for methods to capture the knowledge
from their most senior engineers and professionals and preserve
it for the next group. As the new-millennium generation joins
the energy industry workforce, mentoring gains even higher
priority among the staffers, who are looking for the exit
This group of young engineers is very different.
New-millennium babies have had access to computers during all
of their education. They are online, 24/7. This group reaches
for online search browsers to begin their introductory review
of information for any project. They have smart phones that
have more processing capability than the main frames that many
of us used to control process plants back in the 1970s.
As with any problem, there are always different approaches
to arrive at the solution; some are more direct than others.
Determining the optimum methods to achieve the best solution
does involve applying experience to weed-out the lesser
options. Such experiences were handed over to us by the senior
engineers who came for the baby-boomer generation. Before the
crunch/recession times, process and project engineering groups had
several experience engineers on staff to start the knowledge
transfer to new and lesser experienced engineers. Central
engineering, likewise, provided the extra experience-based
knowledge to complete training to site engineers.
However, right-sizing efforts trimmed away these engineering
positions at the plant and corporate levels. The downsized
experienced engineers were lost to other industries or retired,
thus taking their expertise with them. The HPI is concerned on
how to preserve its knowledge based before it retires
completely from the workforce over the next 10 to 15 years.
Engineering experience is only valuable before it
becomes obsolete. It is the responsibility of the
senior staffers to start the transfer of knowledge with the
next generation of engineers. When looking for answers on tough
technical questions, veteran engineers grab their text books,
handbook CDs and conference papers to start our background
search. We may do a Google search to direct us to a company or
website that we may have forgotten. Better yet, we may call a
colleague within or outside of the company to share notes.
Since many senior engineers began their careers before the
Internet revolution, we were trained to seek multiple
The HPI is a people business! Everyone has valuable experiences
to share with other interested members. Mentoring new hires is
most important in relaying valuable information in a useable
and retainable form to the new hires.
Not everything begins and ends with an online
search. It truly astonishes our younger engineers that
we actually did our jobs without laptops, process simulators,
Internet, smart phones and Twitter. We had slide rules, an
on-site library (and possibly a full-time librarian) and, most
important, senior engineers to help get us on the right path
and to provide guidance.
The experienced engineers of the HPI have seen a tsunami of
technology sweep over and shift how
we conduct our jobs and operate and design HPI facilities. We are now more
connected than in previous decades.
These are all great accomplishments. However, information
gain through the process still needs to be passed in a format
that is usable to the next generation of HPI professionals.
Two-way process. In the mentoring process,
we, older engineers, can learn from the younger engineers as
well. The conversation must start now. To our senior readers,
pick a new hire within your department and begin the one-on-one
conversation and share your experiences about the industry
sector with your new kid on the block. Face-to-face
discussions can lead to more fruitful interactions that would
have never started from impersonal e-mail correspondence.
Better yet, start a group/department mentoring program in your
company. Mustang Engineerings young guns
program strives to have senior engineers share their
professional experiences with new hires. There are other
quality engineer training and development programs in place in
the HPI. For many senior engineers, it took 30 years to gain
the knowledge that is applied on a daily basis.
To our seasoned readers, we were young and less experienced
once. Time and technology has changed how we
conduct business and, more important, how we communicate and
learn. Experience has evolved in preventing mistakes in
operations and design of HPI facilities as well as finding new
opportunities to improve.
Lets hope that we will still be around to see how our
training improved the development of our new kids
as they train their replacements.
Gobel, W., The ups and downs of mentoring,
Hydrocarbon Processing, March 2012, p. 90.