Creating M-shaped maintenance talent and teams

Maintenance technology is evolving quickly and to reduce unnecessary call-outs and mean down-time (MDT), all staff involved in maintenance need regular up-skilling. The work-place too is changing apace with more dependency on fewer specialists e.g. for systems fixes and integration. There are numerous gaps to fill between skills, professions, generations and often non-traditional workers and learners. Hence, the Engineering Skillnet is introducing a new QQI Level 6 Award in Maintenance Skills with bite-sized, single-certified modules to promote skills-readiness (both technical and transversal) for Industry 4.0.

‘M-shaped’ maintenance teams

Automation enables smart preventative and predictive maintenance but this can create high dependency on combination technologies and a few external specialists. Internal technical talent, therefore, needs to be adept across a number of vertical skills to use relevant tools well and think effectively if to avoid unnecessary call-outs and unplanned downtime.

Pauline O’Flanagan, Director of Engineering Industries Ireland, observes that many manufacturers are already “upskilling operators, fabricators and tool makers for advanced maintenance. They need’ M-shaped’ technical staff with skill-sets that span electrical, mechanical and electronic systems”.

Skilled production staff, for example, often act as “first-responders” and key points-of-contact for initial diagnosis and fault-finding. Getting staff up-to-speed (without losing production time) for Industry 4.0 requires nurturing systematic trouble-shooters who are capable of reading visual cues and schematics to interpret varied problems accurately.

The Engineering Skillnet is working with a training provider to co-create a new certified programme that promotes multi-skilled talent for autonomous problem-solving by developing both the technical and transversal skills required in modern maintenance.

Bridging skills gaps

A new Level 6 QQI Award in Maintenance Skills features bite-sized and practical modules. Designed to be accessible even to entry-level production staff, there is no industry, online learning experience or prior technical certification required.

The course can either be taken as single-certified modules or to accumulate 120 credits over eight. Each training module is delivered over days rather than months or years and integrates well with work and systems that learners are familiar with. Prior learning is recognised and ‘learner agency’ (i.e. knowledge of how to learn and confidence in learning ability) is supported well e.g. by a robust learning management system.

The carefully-designed training equipment sets up an impactful experience for the learner that replicates the challenges they face in the workplace. Short courses are practical and hands-on, bridging the gap between the classroom and the workplace and optimising the transferability of the skills learned.

Learners become more autonomous in how they approach problems through a mobile training kits to simulate their existing systems but in a “safe-to-fail” setting. Gaining greater confidence reduces future risk and costs significantly, for example, avoiding unnecessary swopping out equipment parts or escalations.

The Engineering Skillnet is enrolling now for the following modules:

Industrial Pneumatics Systems (Certified) module – February 9th, 10th, 16th and 17th

Introduction to PLC’s - Allen Bradley (Certified) module - March 6th, 7th, 13th and 14th

with regular sessions delivered on Industrial Electrical Systems maintenance module.

The blended approach is reflected in some modules being available as a two-part delivery to allow time in between for learners to apply their skills adequately.

Long-term returns on training investment

Accredited training enables a standardised benchmark of achievement within any company. It also enables ‘quality cultures’ as certified training assists with audit trails and compliance. In addition, there is evidence that learners who are assessed have ‘skin in the game’ and engage at a deeper level.

Investing in ‘M-shaped’ maintenance skills across an enterprise or team also strengthens collaboration and communication. This type of learning opens up silos e.g. between operations, facilities and engineering and increases the agility of staff to improve on overall efficiency and productivity.

The programme also has multiple entry- and exit-points from one module to another with common elements between modules to ease transition as learners can take up training at times that suit them. In addition, introducing a skills pathway helps identify for staff the new skills that they’ll need to develop in the future.

Getting ready to cross-skill

To start to cross-skill for maintenance, it is advisable to first identify the major tasks required including repair work and trouble-shooting carried out by third parties. It’s easier to pick up skills and technologies that are similar to those staff are already familiar with. Equipment manufacturers can also point to where one repair or maintenance task hands off to another.

This programme will develop multi skilled individuals within an organisation. Companies may already have distinct mechanical, electrical or programming people but training like this helps build a culture of embracing multiple skills which enables collaboration in the more complex issues

Indeed, communications is central to this programme with a Systematic Troubleshooting and Communications module including soft skills such as thinking as a team and conducting effective hand-overs.

Programme delivery is designed for industry needs, with flexible delivery pathways offering efficiencies for learners who are working shifts, seasonally and who have varying levels of entry knowledge.

The Engineering Skillnet can advise on common modules across related programmes, multi delivery platform or blended approaches that will best support learning. As training is designed for group delivery, on-site, some members club together to book the modules, sharing the cost and training can, nonetheless, be tailored for particular applications and systems.

Continuing to invest in future skills-readiness

A newly developed, Module in Electrical Principles is now ready to be submitted for accreditation and is expected be ready for delivery in Q2, 2023. It complements the existing modules and advances trouble-shooting skills further. Additional modules target sensors and closed-loop control systems and the

The Engineering Skillnet will co-create new electives based on industry and member input and will hold a Focus Group for this purpose on Wednesday, February 1st from noon to 1 pm.

Please register your interest to participate here:

Some of the suggested elective options to be added include:

  • Programmable Automation
  • Modern Electronics
  • Electrical & Electronic Control Systems
  • Systematic Troubleshooting

For a full break-down on all the modules within this QQI Level 6 Major Award in Maintenance and Automation Skills, contact Fiona Fennell