Energy Workforce: Certification - Do You Get What You Pay For???

ByMichael Powell

What do you really get when a piece of paper (certification) is your benchmark for evaluating a prospective employee? In looking over job descriptions and requirements in online job boards or in the print media, we all have seen the requirement for certification …. Six Sigma, Lean Manufacturing, Auditor, Quality Engineer, Purchasing, Etc... Companies and their hiring managers have the mindset that certification is the guarantee of the ability that they are looking for. If you are not certified in the area of their need, you are not even considered for the position that they are trying to fill.

Especially in the quest for improving quality and efficiency, reducing manufacturing costs and waste, the quality and manufacturing technics such as six sigma, lean manufacturing, and other problem solving methodologies, certification seems to be mandatory. But what do you really get when a piece of paper (certification) is your benchmark for evaluating a prospective employee.

Unfortunately, experience and performance in past jobs does not seem to mean much anymore. Certification, like a college degree, is your learner’s permit that must be tempered and built upon with experience. Without practical “hands-on” experience, certification in a methodology does not necessarily produce substantial positive results.

At a company that I was employed as a quality engineer at, a corporate level quality manager that had obtained his six sigma “green belt” came to my plant to do a six sigma project to earn his “black belt”. Although I am not certified in six sigma, I was put on his six sigma team. The task of his six sigma project was to cut the cost of quality (scrap & rework). He focused on welding. The six sigma green belt manager would come out from his corporate office to the plant ever couple of weeks to lead the team in solving the problem of scrap and rework due to welding. He went over past nonconformity reports (NCRs) by part number, product line and type of welding trying to derive the cause for the NCRs. He was told early on that the welding problems were systemic. That if the reason for the scrap and rework was found for one part, product line, or type of welding, the reason for the problem with other parts, product lines, and types of welding would be found as well. That he should look at the overall process. This advice meant nothing to him. Meeting after meeting he went through his number crunching of all of the elements of the parts with the highest number of NCRs by the book that he learned in his six sigma class.

We were getting nowhere fast. Nothing concrete was coming out of the meetings. Some team members started not showing up for his meetings. Some of us communicated our concern about the waste of time and no results to the plant quality director. He was able to get the “plug pulled” on the six sigma project and that was the last we saw of the corporate quality manager.

In spite of his six sigma certification, this guy had no practical “hands-on” experience and no knowledge of welding processes. He “could not see the forest for the trees” so to speak. His six sigma training and certification had no positive impact on trying to solve the problems with welding. Sometimes to get to the root cause of a problem, there is no substitute for getting out in the “trenches” and “putting your ear to the ground”.

In my daily walks through the shops checking on this and that, I would talk to people, listen, and observe. I am not a welder, but in my years of being first a manufacturing engineer and then a quality engineer, I have watched various welding processes, talked to people who knew more than me, and had to deal with welding problems.

I had been told that you could tell the change in the seasons by the fluctuation in NCRs. Welding processes are sensitive to the environment in which they are performed in. You can have a perfect welding procedure, but changes in humidity will have an adverse effect on your weld.

One day I was talking to the lead welding inspector and asked what did he think was the cause of our problems. He said that there are some welding processes that are “dirtier” than others. The process that was being used was not as “clean” as another that could be used but it was FASTER. So when the weld was ultrasonically inspected afterwards, unacceptable “indications” were found that rejected the weld. Although the indications were not found in every case, and they came in varying degree, this occurred more often than not. In which case the weld had to be cut out and rewelded. Sometimes the cut out was so extensive that the large components had to be cut completely apart and the weld preps remachined. The parts were so large and bulky that it would take up to 3 or 4 hours just to sit up and indicate them in on the large vertical turning lathes. Unfortunately, the faster welding process could and in many cases did add addition hours for bad weld removal, remachining, and rewelding to an already overloaded shop schedule.

The management mindset was by push and shove. Each operation in the manufacturing process was to be done as fast as possible. Although the faster welding procedure saved time for the welding operation of the manufacturing process, it could cost more time than it gained in rework time.

Both of the real causes for bad welds (environment and weld process) were not touched on in the quality manager’s six sigma evaluation. He was looking at every element of the operation as he learned in the certification training. He did not have a clue!! He was looking for band aids to fix the resulting problem. If going by the numbers (in this case – the six sigma methodology) could get the job done, then anybody could sit through the training in the methodology and come up with all of the answers. Unfortunately, this is not the case in the real world.

In today’s world of dumbed-down immediate gratification, it seems that businesses rely more and more on a “cookie-cutter” fit out of a text book. The candidate for a position that has all of the right “certifications” is considered the best candidate. Candidates without certification are not considered. Managers do not have to think and/or evaluate ….. just put the square peg into the square hole and the desired results will be obtained ….. improved productivity and profit margins ….. or so they think.

Over the past 20 years, “quality” has been a growth industry. Careers and fortunes have been made in training and consulting …. ISO 9000 for companies and six sigma and other methodology training for individuals. So many times a company will get their people trained and certified in a quality/productivity methodology to show that it is an efficient quality operation …. at least on paper. But the mindset of upper management is often not changed. It has been papered over with certifications.

The assorted problem solving methodologies originated from the Toyota Quality Team in the auto industry. They were developed to deliver uniform results through a standardized process. But like the old saying about computers, “garbage in – garbage out”, if experience and a little “common sense” is not applied to the uniform process, results can be somewhat less than desired. Certification does not equate to good effective solutions to problems.

Please do not misunderstand me. Certification in a problem solving methodology or job function can be a handy tool in a person’s “skills tool box”. But it is not a stand-alone qualification. A person with experience, an inquisitive mind, and a desire to accomplish something positive can often out preform a person with just the certification.

Oh yea …. there is another important element that is necessary for any quality/problem solving methodology to work. Top management has to understand, believe in, and actively support the improvement program for it to work effectively!!!

Michael Powell - Graduate of the University of Houston’s School of Technology and Stephen F Austin’s School of Business, has been employed by various oil tool manufacturing companies in Houston, Texas as a manufacturing engineer and a quality engineer over the past 30+ years.

This article is the opinion of the author, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of PennEnergy or its staff. To share your thoughts on this piece or propose your own original content, please contact us at Content@Pennwell.com.

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