When our Saskatchewan energy team got the opportunity to substantially increase project work for a long-term client, it quickly rose to the challenge. In a year, the team, managed by Jaclyn Mann, Senior Manager, Energy and Resources, added six new technical resources and tripled its workload for the public utility company.
Accomplishing that required a streamlined approach to training. Jaclyn says the team’s rapid and successful ramp up was possible thanks to an innovative training process that was both highly effective and incredibly simple.
Updating aging power grid creates huge workload
Like utility companies worldwide, the electricity provider is facing the mammoth task of repairing, replacing and modernizing its aging transmission and distribution systems.
“The infrastructure is at an age where it’s becoming unreliable. It’s meeting its end of life,” explains Jaclyn. In 2021, the public utility received extra funding to accelerate its upgrade work. Without enough engineers to complete the projects on its own, the utility reached out to existing contractors, including CIMA+, for help.
Jaclyn knew right away it was a golden opportunity. But it meant her small team had to grow significantly, and new employees only had a short time to get up to speed.
Facing a technical training challenge
In just a year, our Saskatchewan energy team grew from 4 to 10. Many of those new resources were recent graduates and new to utility design work. Jaclyn needed an easy and efficient way to onboard, train and mentor the new employees and get them up and running quickly.
In the past, on-the-job training was labour intensive and, often, inefficient, involving long training courses and one-on-one support from experienced employees, which reduced the time they had to work on projects. Given the team’s timelines, this traditional approach wasn’t an option.
“When we were adding more employees and all these new projects were coming in, it became very apparent that we needed a better system than just relying on person-to-person training.”
Creating a dynamic training library
Several tech-savvy team members stepped up to find a solution. Using collaboration tools they already had, they created a training library that was flexible, low maintenance and easy-to-use.
Their project-specific library included short, Tik-Tok-style instructional videos created in Microsoft Teams. The 40-plus videos were housed on a SharePoint page, which linked to process documents, templates and detailed checklists of key tasks.
This meant everyone on the team had easy access to information on all components of the projects. And new team members had a step-by-step guide to completing the work.
“We wanted to simplify it as much as possible so that we could get them working on projects efficiently,” explains Jaclyn. “It was a fast learning curve and everyone was doing their best to learn quickly and help each other out.”
Strengthening a valuable client relationship
“We were able to triple our work for the client in about a year,” says Jaclyn. With its innovative approach to training, the CIMA+ team demonstrated it could quickly increase its workload, yet still be counted on to deliver high-quality work and meet deadlines.
By taking on extra work, the team helped the power utility meet its infrastructure improvement targets and became a ‘go to’ contractor for the company.
“I think that really strengthens our relationship,” she says.
Taking a learner-led approach to training
“I’m trying to build the team atmosphere that I wish I had when I was a young engineer learning all that stuff,” explains Jaclyn.
She says when she was starting out, training wasn’t very effective. “It was, ‘Here’s a training course, you’re going to sit in it for three hours. Then, go back to your desk and apply it.’ I don’t think that ever really worked great, but even less so now.”
That’s why she wanted her team members to have a training program “created for them by them” where information is easy to find and delivered in small chunks that are easier to understand and apply when needed.
“This way works well because they still have a mentor, but they have the ability to go through the material and work through it at their own pace.”
Benefitting CIMA+ teams across the country
As the infrastructure renewal project proceeds over the next several years, the training library will continue to expand and evolve.
Now, Jaclyn says her team is looking into the possibility of how AI technology like ChatGPT could make the search function even more effective.
Her team is also helping colleagues in Alberta set up a training library for a new utility project that involves similar design work. So far, the first group of employees has been hired, trained and is already actively working on the project.
Jaclyn thinks the training initiative can be easily adapted to help CIMA+ teams working on any type of project anywhere in the country.
Finding a simple approach to innovation
Jaclyn says it’s easy to overlook simple solutions when you’re trying to be innovative. “But, in a lot of ways, I think its simplicity is what makes this training approach so innovative.”
“It doesn’t always have to be something flashy or that needs a lot of technology. But just finding a solution to a problem that works really well, is cost-effective, is really efficient that can solve a lot of problems at once – to me, that’s innovation.”