5 Key Skills that Every Technician should Possess
No matter what kind of facility or process you are charged with running, there is a set of skills that apply across the board.
Obviously, I understand that some equipment will still need specialized training.
That specialized training is valuable because it allows you to fix problems quickly.
Some equipment can’t be fixed as easily as other problems, so the downtime lasts longer and costs you more…
However, the most valuable tools are the ones you need to use every day.
The good news is that most of these are common skills, not very difficult to teach and learn!
At the surface level, that sounds like finding the appropriate training for those skills would be extremely easy.
Or, even better, finding someone who already possesses all of these skills.
But for some reason, we still see deficits across all of manufacturing.
Why do we have a problem with finding skilled professionals?
Before answering that question, let’s take a look at a summary of the most critical skills.
Workplace skills can be divided into two categories - generally called ‘hard’ and ‘soft’.
For the moment, I’ll focus on hard skills.
Soft skills will be addressed later.
Of course safety gets the spot of honor at the top of the list.
The mantra of every industry - promoting a safe, efficient work environment.
But the reason this skill is so valuable is the acceleration it can bring to every troubleshooting process.
Getting started with the debugging of a faulty system begins with asking ‘is this going to hurt me?’
A technician proficient in aspects of identifying energy sources, then removing them, and finally testing to ensure a safe situation - that’s a real boost to speed.
If nobody is familiar or confident with the safety procedures, or the common sense rationale behind those procedures, they will be hesitant to get started.
Wait for the supervisor to show up.
What if, instead, every technician was willing to step up and make the situation safe, then immediately begin identifying the problem.
Seriously, safety isn’t just a catchy motto, it’s a psychological empowerment!
2. Multimeter Use
Of all measurement tools accessible to a technician, the multimeter has to be the most common, the easiest to use, and sadly, the most overlooked…
First thing to note, pretty much any meter will get the job done, it doesn’t have to be the best brand, or the highest rated, unless the safety ratings dictate a certain model.
In the hands of a capable technician, the ability to sense voltage of low-voltage (like 24 volt) systems, or resistance in a dead system - the value can’t be measured.
The typical digital meter can be used in nearly every troubleshooting scenario:
- Sensing low voltage or momentary dropouts from a supply
- Locating a broken wire or open solenoid coil
- Finding shorts between two conductors which should be isolated
- Determining whether the capacitance between two wires is causing interference
- Identifying the duty cycle of a pulse-controlled DC motor
- Measuring the output frequency of a variable frequency drive
- Pinpointing which contact on a switch has become corroded over time
All of these, and countless more.
Measured from any standard multimeter.
There are other common variants - some can measure AC currents with a clamp-on device, some have transistor and inductance measurement features, and others can generate large voltages to detect insulation weaknesses.
Having the ability to quickly pick the right tool, select the right setting, and understand the results can lead to faster and more accurate repairs.
More importantly, in the right hands, they can find the underlying REASON for the fault.
Don’t settle for just replacing devices!
3. Knowledge of Electrical Components
Sometimes, the simple concepts tend to get overlooked the most.
In many training programs at colleges and trade schools, the focus is on how to fix the problems, rather than the theory behind it.
I agree. Good plan. Fixing stuff saves money.
The problem is that too much overlooking of the theory can inhibit the ability to look ‘inside’ a problem.
Imagine every problem as the outside of a box, and you want to keep the box in good shape.
Every time you see a hole in the box, you tape over it.
Obviously, the question you would ask - ‘why are the holes showing up??’
If you could look inside with an x-ray to see why it’s happening, you could stop the problem, and move on to other more productive operations.
Rewind to the last point, about the multimeter - I mentioned capacitance between wires.
-- If you don’t understand capacitance, you wouldn’t even think to measure the wires.
-- If you don’t understand inductance, why would it cause interference when you change a wire route?
-- If you don’t understand resistance, you might not see why that corroded switch contact heats up so badly…
The point here is that there must be a bit of theory.
Now, you may not EVER need to know how to wind a transformer, or repair a capacitor on a circuit board.
We don’t need to go overboard on the theory of operation, but without a degree of understanding, we can’t expect anything better than a guess and prayer that changing something can fix the problem.
4. Mental Math
This is the concept that everyone seems to hate, for some reason.
Mention math, and people tend to shut down, but I don’t understand why.
Maybe it’s because math, to me, open up the entire world to predictable, repeatable behaviors.
Here’s a simple example:
Double the voltage through your circuit - what happens to the total power you are dissipating?
Well, doubling the voltage causes double the current (Ohm’s Law).
Then 2x the voltage, and 2x the current are both multiplied together (Watt’s Law) and the effect is 4x the power.
If you apply that concept to a transformer coil, and think ‘hey, I can just double the voltage and I’ll get double the voltage out of it’.
Wrong, you run the risk of heating up that coil and melting it because the total power (heat) it’s dissipating is FOUR times what it was before.
Mental math is the ability to quickly assess a situation or get a few key measurements with your trusty multimeter.
Once you have these key numbers, you can begin estimating, and making rough approximate answers.
The answers can lead to tracing problems back to a source.
Or perhaps predicting whether a certain change will damage a component or machine.
Calculators can be great, but they take a long time to use, they provide unnecessary precision, and often they are prone to mistakes since they can’t tell whether you actually meant to press minus or the ‘negative’ symbol.
Get the hang of finding rough answers in your head quickly, and you will find that math ends up being a whole lot easier and more useful that you ever imagined!
5. Computer Network Hardware
Computers are, without doubt, the future of control systems.
Honestly, even today, literally every measurement tool, everything is run with a computer.
I took apart a GFCI outlet the other day (check out the video here) and the entire thing is controlled by small integrated circuits!
We don’t ask technicians to be professionals in the fields of IT and computer science.
What we do require is technicians who understand the ideas, concepts and the hardware that drives our facilities.
Even if that knowledge extends no further than recognizing a CAT6 cable and why we can’t run it parallel to a main AC cable.
Even if it’s just the surface level.
If computers and networked devices are the future of automation, we need to expect a level of proficiency.
Why is it so hard to find?
We understand that it’s near impossible to find people who can perform well, or at least they are rare.
You find someone, then they leave, and the position is hard to fill.
If these skills are so easy, then why don’t we have a surplus of people with the skills?
One reason - specialization.
You have people who are great at using multimeters, but no clue about networks.
Plenty of people great at math, but never locked out an electrical system.
IT professionals who wouldn’t know when or where to use a voltmeter.
Teaching people to become that ‘Jack of All Trades’ and be really good at all of them.
That’s the goal.
That’s who you want on your team.
Solution: locate someone who can teach everything
Or at least, teach everything you need in order to get the most qualified, well rounded technicians to keep your shop operating at peak performance.
We can do that.
If you think this approach to training would work well for your team, let us know.
We can design custom curriculum just for you, but the material is always goal-oriented to provide you with excellent technicians.
In fact, most of our curriculum revolves around these 5 key concepts.
Get the people who can fix your problems, provide them the best training possible, and you’ve got a recipe for success.
You have the people, we can help with the training.