Calfrac finds flexibility, mobility – and cost savings – in taking blended approach to training (National HR Awards)

Winner, Best Corporate Training and Development Program
By Liz Foster
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 09/21/2015

Calgary-based Calfrac couldn’t find a classroom big enough to fit its needs, so it created its own.

The pressure pumping services provider put a tablet in the hands of each of its field operators as part of its Calfrac Employee Responsibility Training (CERT). The CERT program allowed for flexibility and mobility in the organization’s on-the-job training, essentially putting a mobile classroom in the hands of each and every one of its field operators. 

“As a company, the commitment to put a tablet in the hands of every one of our operators was significant,” says Jon Koop, director of employee training and development at Calfrac, which operates in five countries worldwide.

“The willingness to do that really speaks volumes to the company’s commitment to training, even in the current market conditions in oil and gas.” 

CERT also standardized training across the company’s districts, both in content and in delivery. The program includes online training modules relating to each individual piece of equipment used by field operators in conjunction with on-the-job training through peer-to-peer coaching. 

Calfrac’s blended approach to training — which incorporates the online modules and hands-on field training — is cutting edge, Koop says. 

CERT was first conceived as a set of manuals. Calfrac uses more than 30 separate pieces of equipment in operations and many of these machines are retrofitted to suit specific needs. In an effort to create standardized training processes, Calfrac worked with several of its field operators and a technical writer to create a manual for each piece of equipment. 

The manuals ranged from 20 to 40 pages each. 

“What we realized really quickly was that probably wasn’t the best training method,” says Koop. “Sitting these guys in front of stacks of manuals wasn’t going to be very effective at keeping them awake, let alone having them learn anything.” 

The company decided a blended approach would be more successful, as the hands-on component would be more in keeping with its tradition of on-the-job training. 

“It was pretty conscious,” says Eric Stenson, Calfrac’s corporate field training manager, of the company’s decision to give employees a significant amount of agency and control within the CERT program.

“I started, first day, boots on the ground,” he says. “We consciously made the effort to make sure the program fit with on-the-job training in the field.” 

With that in mind, Calfrac turned to employees as it devised its training processes. Field operators were consulted in the creation of best practices, including how to use the equipment as well as safety procedures and environmental factors.

Employees work through the best practices via e-learning courses with their tablets. Once they pass a knowledge exam, they are able to download the necessary on-the-job training forms. Along with a peer trainer, employees complete the forms as they train with the equipment in the field. 

Following an assessment by a site supervisor, the employee is declared competent and becomes a peer coach for fellow employees undergoing training. 

“We don’t have a classroom big enough or a teacher smart enough to teach everyone everything they need to know in this business,” Koop says. “So we need to rely on each other and be able to teach each other.” 

To facilitate this, an online coaching module was developed for CERT. The module incorporates Calfrac’s culture and core values.

“If we expect an employee to coach somebody else,” says Koop, “we need to give them the skills and tools to be able to do that.” 

The coaching module is indicative of Calfrac’s goals moving forward, he said. The company sees its CERT program as an opportunity for the organization to become a learning organization and cultivate peer-to-peer training and the sharing of information on an ongoing basis. 

This sharing of information is just as helpful to leadership as it is to field operators, according to Stenson.

Through the tablets’ form and checklist formats, supervisors are able to follow employees’ training progress in real time. By removing any guesswork, supervisors can work with new employees confidently, contributing to increased labour mobility.

CERT’s standardized training and readily available employee information means field operators can easily move to a different crew, division or district. Calfrac is currently working on translating the program, to ensure employees in the United States, Russia and Argentina are also trained using the same strategy. 

Additionally, the company plans to expand the program to create modules for its maintenance staff, front-line supervisors and engineers. 

“We standardized all of the training across the company,” says Stenson. “That way, everybody gets the same training at the same time. It’s really cost-saving. Yes, we had to spend money, but now we’re reaping the rewards.” 

Simulator training is highly effective, but extremely costly. A single simulator for one piece of equipment can cost as much as $1 million, according to Calfrac. By blending online and on-the-job learning, Calfrac was able to create a training and development program that was both meaningful and economical. 

Modules were created for each separate piece of machinery, at an average cost of less than $20,000 per module. Calfrac spent about $280,000 to furnish each employee with her own tablet. Employees are also paid two hours’ wages to complete each module, as their learning is done on their own time. 

In the end, says Stenson, the cost of the tablets was considered to be far less than the cost of printing physical copies of dozens of manuals.

“We weren’t real keen, with 3,000 employees, on the idea of giving everybody a manual,” he says. “You can see what that would have cost us, from an environmental perspective. It would have been a whole lot of paper, a whole lot of ink and a whole lot of money.” 

Equally positive has been the response from employees, Koop says. 

“From our operations and our leadership, we’ve seen a really good response,” he says. “They’ve driven it, and we’ve seen an incredible adoption rate.” 

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