19th September 2019

Maximizing Welders’ Effectiveness In An Industry Where Skills Are Dire

 

Lessons by
Karthik Gopal & Jacqueline Edson Mwakatobe

 

Welding is a critical skill required in putting place electricity infrastructureRightly so, Mechanical Engineering is one amongst our capabilities and it allows us to fabricate, test, maintain & repair steel structures, piping systems etc. It also allows us the opportunity to work in power plants, ports, oil refineries, mines & pumping stations among others across sub-Saharan Africa. 2018 was a welding high for us due to our involvement in the construction of the 240MW Combined-Cycle Power Plant in Dar es salaam, Tanzania on an accelerated schedule. This project came with a demand to engage a wide range of welders at different levels and it is through this experience that we gathered a few lessons that we believe will help maximize effectiveness in any industry especially at a team building level.

As an ever-growing business, one of the best ways to understand the essence of organizational effectiveness is to ask this question: “Is my business doing the right things?” The reason this is such an important question is that effectiveness in business is about making sure that your company is pursuing the right goals and objectives and daily output should be a constant attempt towards the desired results. The project required 120,000 Día Inch welding in GTAW and GTAW+SMAW process – mostly carbon and stainless steel and significant amount of P11 and P22 and a very small P91. There was also a high demand for extensive welding in SMAW process to facilitate the fabrication of 5 Nos water tanks and assembly of HRSG units.

Because of the construction schedule, we needed to hire very experienced welders to execute these tasks whilst maintaining international standards and within the set timeframe. Naturally we went with the choice that was within reach which was to find good local SMAW 2G, 3G and 4G welders who had experience in tank works. However, when it came to execution the results were not as desirable and the failure rate was very high ( >50%) in testing. This was not only a setback on our delivery timeline, it also threatened the reputation we have been building in our niche industry for over 20 years! 

To remedy this, we scaled back and re-evaluated our strategy in order to maximize the effectiveness of each welder. Through this process we learned a few critical lessons

  • Capabilities Gap Assessment

Basically, you have to first ask yourself; how good is my team? Before sending anyone to the field/client for execution, to avoid failed delivery or strategic failure this is the most important step. You could be lucky but teams do not become effective overnight. You must first assess and understand the capabilities, to give you a blank slate of information that you can then use to make a plan of action for the improvement for each individual team member in order to build powerful assets rather than liabilities. It’s also important to remember this is an important exercise for both permanent & sub-contracted workforce, your client cannot differentiate.

To overcome this huddle we ran extensive tests for all welders at our workshop facility prior to having them appear on a qualification test witnessed by the client. Based on these tests it was evident that the major defects were on the lack of fusion, porosity, slag inclusion and excess penetration. Knowing the problem was a great first step to solving the problem.

  • Investment in trainings to improve productivity

Having realized areas that needed improvement, we set up a training facility at our Workshop and asked local welders to perform multiple tests that allowed us to eliminate the defects which really helped us decrease the failure rate in WQT for 2G,3G and 4G.

 

It’s important for management to provide appropriate training and development to the team in order to increase the efficiency of individual employees.

 

Trainings and development strategies are positive contributors to the success of projects and departmental strength which therefore increasing overall organizational performance. 

  • Monitoring performance & individual growth

Obviously the company needs to see the return on investment, and this can only be measured through close monitoring and constant performance tests both during and after the training. The question is, are both the company and the individual benefiting from the results of the training? The truth should be in the improvement of efficiency which is only evident through constant performance tracking.

For the power plant project, we constantly monitored post-training performance of each welder and guided them throughout the construction stage to reduce the overall repair rate to below 10%, which we consider as a great achievement especially having included local welders.

  • Acknowledgement of team improvements

Expressing appreciation or acknowledging members of the team, is one of the most underrated but highly valuable tools for building powerful, engaged and highly effective teams. By acknowledging the growth, you boost morale and motivate the team which is a win-win for both parties involved.

There are multiple ways to do this, and we applied different techniques at different stages of the project. As an example, during tank welding stage, we identified local and foreign welders who performed exceptionally well in the tanks works and assisted them to successfully become 6G welders.

 

 

  • Not every team member starts at the same level

For the project we had a diverse range of welders which included local welders from Tanzania and others from Kenya and India. While the Tanzanians had a higher initial failure rate, the condition was not so different for Kenyan welders except that they required less time to get the quality results for 2G,3G and 4G. As we moved to piping in GTAW+SMAW process we recruited Indian welders and they passed the internal test quicker with a low failure rate especially the 6G welders. The same result came when we recruited alloy welders specially for P91, P22 and P11 welding during the initial stage.

What this tells us is that there is no cookie cutter form of training, At entry level you must invest time to identify strengths and weaknesses of each member which then allows you to devise appropriate training to each group, thus building an even stronger and effective team both individually & together.  

This understanding helped us merge the skills of the different welders  who ended up performing very well together, hence reducing the overall failure rate to less than 5%.

 

Effectiveness is one of CEG’s core values along with openness, accountability, honesty and simplicity. We believe in producing the desired results, within set standards, in the agreed budget, within set timelines while being fully compliant. It’s through practical experiences like this project, we get to hone this value and build a better and sustainable team.

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