The Role of Battery Training in Improving Battery Reliability
Since the early days of civilization, the method by which the craft skills have been taught was through an apprenticeship program. A young person would work under an older craftsman, learning the skills to eventually ply a trade and succeed – maybe not always in the way they might have thought. After all, some of our founding fathers were originally apprentices – Benjamin Franklin was a printer and Paul Revere a silversmith. Over the centuries, the composition of the apprenticeship has changed; initially they were comprised of guilds to establish standards of workmanship. Then, in 1919, government got involved, and the first laws were introduced that required the apprentices to undertake 150 hours of theory and general education in addition to their work experience.
For many apprentices, that work experience would be in the maintenance department. Working with the various journeymen that had different areas of responsibility exposed them to the different aspects of their select trade. This allowed the apprentices to identify the areas they would prefer to work in, and their education continued long after the apprenticeship had ended, through the ongoing mentorship of their older experienced colleagues.
History of Battery Training
Starting in the 1970’s, in the interests of efficiency, work practices changed. Many of the specialized skillsets, such as battery technicians, were no longer identified separately but were simply part of a more general maintenance grouping such as mechanical and electrical.
At the same time, the structure of apprenticeships also changed. Education at a local technical college typically became the predominate part of the training, and the work element was reduced to periods of work experience or an internship with a sponsoring organization.
The overall impact of this has been an erosion of the knowledge base that is a key factor in the operation and maintenance of any organization. The best guess is we have lost at least two generations of technicians with the battery knowledge necessary to truly ensure battery reliability. Since a battery is the power source of last resort that we depend on to operate without fail, perhaps it’s time to start training a new generation of battery specialists.
The Role of IEEE in Battery Training
This is not a new idea. In around 2006, The Stationary Battery Committee of the IEEE Power and Energy Society set out to establish the basic skill sets that should be taught in such a course. And in 2009, the first edition of IEEE 1657 – IEEE Recommended Practice for Personnel Qualifications for Installation and Maintenance of Stationary Batteries was published. This document defines four levels of battery competency required to operate in a battery environment and details the skills required to achieve that competency.
- Level L0 is the safety training required by OSHA to safely enter a battery room, even as a laborer.
- Level L1 is an entrance level technician that requires supervision, and a
- Level L2 technician should be able to carry out all standard maintenance tasks without supervision.
The skills required for a technician to progress from levels L0 through L2 are broken into two groups:
- Those that can be taught in a classroom setting and
- Those that are described as best demonstrated rather than classroom taught.
Instruction in these practical skills can be taught as part of on-the-job training under the supervision of a level L3 technician. To be a level L3 technician, they must either have worked at both Level L1 and L2 for a specified period of time or have a previous level of experience with batteries. In both cases, their skills must be verified by a more senior level L3 technician or a qualified instructor.
A final designation of SK or Specialist Knowledge identifies additional training that a person qualified to Level 3 may require to meet a specific job responsibility.
Long-Term Battery Training Relationships Are Needed
One of the challenges to developing training that fully encompasses the objectives identified in IEEE 1657 is that it requires organizations to partner with trainers to incorporate both classroom and On-the-Job training as part of their training program. The syllabus for the OJT and the associated classroom training is the responsibility of the trainers, including the training of those senior technicians who will guide and assess the progress of the lower-level technicians as they complete their OJT.
While there will always be a requirement for the one- or two-day courses that provide a general overview or an in-depth training in a specialized subject, Eagle Eye University will continue to expand our catalog of these types of courses. But, as we reflect on the last year, the restrictions that Covid-19 placed on normal operations, the regrettable loss of experienced personnel it created, and the increasing number of natural disasters that no one can prepare for, we have to continue to do better. We have to consider that if we are going to truly ensure we always have that power source of last resort, then perhaps – more than simply taking a one-off course – we need to establish training partnerships that will develop these important skills over time. After all, there can’t be any shortcuts when it comes to ensuring that, even under the most challenging conditions, there will always be someone qualified to do what is required.