Meeting future demands for hydro training16 April 2001
An increasing number of hydro personnel are set to retire over the next few years and, as new employees are recruited, an unprecedented demand for training and education may be created. Sten-Erik Björling explains how the hydro power competence network is set to revolutionise training in the twenty-first century
The hydro power industry is a technology-driven sector. Handling large installations and advanced equipment, it has to reduce potential risks for the surrounding environment through the safe and effective operation of power plants. In this context training and education is vital for all industry personnel.
The demographic profile of personnel throughout the global hydro power sector is dominated by individuals who are close to retirement age. In the next few years this means that many companies will be faced with the problem of recruiting large numbers of new employees – over a short space of time and with limited resources.
New employees may well require training and, undoubtedly, the cost of training is set to increase. It will become more expensive to send personnel on training courses – due to both time away from work and in travelling expenses. But the importance of training will not diminish within the sector. The demand for highly trained staff will be re-iterated; least of all due to the introduction of new products and technologies which staff must be able to understand and use effectively. The changing role of hydro power in the context of water resource management will also place training demands on hydro companies and their staff. Such factors will only highlight any company that may have neglected training efforts in recent years.
Hydro power competence network
As more people retire and the demand for training increases, the availability of teachers and specialists may diminish in the future. The competition for gaining expertise will increase and specialists may no longer have time to further their knowledge of specialist areas, due to increased demands for more basic training.
But the complexity of training in the hydro power sector does not end here. In the future the industry will demand increased co-operation. It will be more important for power companies worldwide to share expertise on problems that are unique to climatic zones and urban conditions. Solutions for future problems will also demand the integration of different expertise in contexts that cannot be fully understood today. The whole area of water management, knowledge of pollution, the increased problems spawning from urbanisation and global warming will necessitate the creation of ad hoc groups to participate in solving new types of problems. This potential development will put increased demands on participants in such groups, who will need to quickly familiarise themselves with new areas of competence.
Information technology and the internet will also play interesting roles in the future. It is most likely that the internet will become more prominent in education, training and the exchange and dissemination of information. With this in mind, internet technology needs to become more universal. Most end-users will no longer tolerate having to learn numerous different search engines to find information, and will not accept different definitions for the same piece of information. Companies will no longer be able to ‘lock in’ information and those who require it. Customers will value freedom of movement and choice between several suppliers of training materials and set-ups. Furthermore, the internet will no longer be dominated by the English language; just offering solutions in English will no longer be sufficient. Many users do not regard English as their first language and most personnel targeted for training do not speak English fluently.
But what is the significance of this in the context of future training requirements in the hydro power industry?
The above factors were highlighted by Annex VII of the international-energy-agency’s (IEA) Hydropower Implementing Agreement. This work stemmed from Annex V which focused on education and training in the hydroelectric power sector, through evaluating existing educational resources and suggesting future curriculum and use of information technology in education and training.
After finalising Annex V, requests were made to further develop the solutions and concepts developed in subtask 5 (use of information technology in hydro power education and training) into a second phase. The result, Annex VII, aims to develop and implement a platform for the exchange of expertise in the global hydro power sector. The platform is called the hydro power competence network (HCN).
Annex VII is divided into two main areas containing a number of subtasks:
• Inventory of infrastructures – such as communication links, computer policies and demands for co-operation tools at a number of hydroelectric power organisations and companies. This phase will avoid solutions that are not functional or too demanding for existing communication links and computers at participating organisations.
• Development, implementation and testing of the tools building the HCN. The choice of tools is to be based on the requests revealed in the inventory phase.
A third phase has been lifted out from Annex VII – the creation of standards for producing learning materials and the creation of courses for those developing learning materials. These are to be managed by a separate project outside the scope of Annex VII by Jokkmokk Training Centre in Sweden; due to its proximity to the Porjus hydroelectric power centre (See IWP&DC May 1998).
The hydro power competence network is a system based on the internet to allow for a more efficient exchange and management of expertise in the hydro power sector. HCN will offer a controlled environment that is user-friendly for most operating systems, applications and network bandwidth. By creating functional standards HCN will facilitate an efficient, parallel development of competence resources (learning materials, curriculum and contacts between specialists) and will maintain the value of the material over time. Much of the material can have a lifespan of 20-30 years.
The functional goals of HCN are grouped into the main areas of distance learning, curriculum development and distribution of research results. The goals for distance learning are to:
• Offer a global infrastructure for the management of distance learning for companies in the hydro power sector and educational organisations. A training department/organisation will build distance training packages from a large selection of learning materials and specialised training sessions from all over the world which are managed in a standardised way. The current situation means that the creator of the training effort has to find many different places on the internet, and try to create courses from different vendors with different structures, naming conventions and formats.
• Enable participants to undergo training using the internet. This allows students to train at their own pace and remove constraints regarding classrooms and available teachers. It also reduces costs for companies and students.
• Allow students to have access to the best teachers regardless of time zone, nationality and strain on the individual specialist. The same structures can also be used as a powerful resource for teachers and specialists – as an efficient distribution system for teacher-based training.
• Optimise more specialist parts of courses. By offering the means to perform large sections of training sessions using the internet, more specialised parts of courses can be optimised. Before travelling to a specialised course participants can perform training sessions on the internet to bring them all up to the same knowledge level. This simplifies the planning for trainers and makes the training efforts more efficient.
The goals for curriculum development and distribution of research results distribution are to:
• Create mechanisms to improve the communication between specialist teachers to quickly create new types of courses and learning materials in accordance with the changing needs of the hydro power sector.
• Function as a distribution network for dissipation of research results and concepts. As part of the dissemination of a research report, the researcher can create one or two lectures covering the results to be used by planners and researchers at power organisations. This enables the quick evaluation of important research. These results can also become part of the curriculum in training efforts for specialists. With increased knowledge of research already carried out, the requirements for additional research becomes clear.
The goals for the computer and software platforms in HCN cover:
Many solutions today are based on locking vital information into proprietary structures, preventing users from moving the information from one system to another. HCN shall, as far as possible, base the information storage on standardised formats and structures to allow it to be moved freely to other systems when the demands on the system change.
Decreased demands on performance
Software today demands quite powerful computers, but most of the computers in the world are not the latest models. HCN will be able to run on computers that are weak by today’s standards the base level is 75-100 MHz Pentium.
Operating systems and specific versions
Today, Windows is the most commonly installed operating system in the world but the problem is fragmentation.
Everything from 3.0, 95-98, ME, NT 3.5, NT 4 and W2K are in different variants. HCN will allow for all these variants to utilise the solutions as equally as possible (except for Windows 3.0).
HCN shall be cost-effective in terms of low costs for server hardware, software and particularly regarding the costs for maintenance and administration. There are solutions out there that are very competent but put heavy demands on an expensive infrastructure and expensive consultants for their maintenance.
Many solutions that are created today are optimised for the bandwidths that are available in western Europe and the US. HCN will put low demands on the available transport capacity of the networks since many clients live in areas with slow communication links.
Eliminate extensive re-training
A problem in utilising current solutions for distance learning and competence management are the large number of different interfaces the user has to learn before the systems can be used properly. HCN shall present the user with a standard interface, regardless of the tool used, and the interface elements will be recognisable from systems and applications already in use.
HCN, in a later development phase, will utilise different languages – both regarding the user interface and the distributed materials. The goal is for the system to handle Unicode-based interfaces and information (Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Arabic etc). This development has to await results from development efforts by some vendors.
Designers and development
The power to enter information and materials in the system shall be firmly placed in the hands of teachers and specialists. A construction that involves designers and centralised controlling organs will decrease the efficiency of the system and reduce the pace of development of required competence materials.
HCN contains a framework that will allow organisations to develop and include their own tools into the system. It will enable different centres to develop specialised tools in co-operation with others.
The current plans for the tools in HCN will be modified depending on the results from the inventory phase of Annex VII. Those planned so far are described below.
The core part of the system is the framework used by all system tools to handle the common interfaces. All the tools are using the routines in the core for their functionality, such as switching between tools, connection to database systems etc.
The concept of distance learning in HCN is based on the personal curriculum, which is a tailormade set-up of training classes that are constructed for the individual student. The curriculum navigator tool allows the student to navigate amongst the resources used in their personalised training effort and also contains routines for communication with the teachers and colleagues. The current implementation of OmnIES at the Annex V website (http://www.annexv.iea.org) presents a small conceptual example of this type of tool.
The curriculum builder tool will be used by trainers and teachers to create tailormade curriculum by searching amongst the existing courses and learning materials present in HCN and linking accepted parts into the curriculum.
The knowledge builder will allow specialists in different parts of the world to co-ordinate efforts in a structured way to create new types of training and areas of competence.
Specialists and managers in the hydro power industry will be able to track the status of research in the field with the research bank tool. This will not only be a good dissemination tool but will allow different individuals to participate in lectures introducing the results of the research.
Possible expansions of HCN
As stated earlier, HCN will be constructed in a modularised manner allowing for additional specialised tools in one integrated environment. Additional tools may include:
• Cataloguing ideas and results from testing new routines and methods. This could be used as an ‘inspiration bank’ that contains all types of tips and hints with good search abilities. It can also cover areas outside the hydro power sector.
• Keeping vital expertise in the company. This is a problem for large organisations when replacing personnel going into retirement. Individuals often have access to very important knowledge of installations and phenomena that are not easily transferred to documents. A knowledge catcher handled locally by the individual organisation can store this vital information.
• Handling tests and, if structures and organisational set-ups allow it, also the ability to perform distance certification of qualified personnel.
Other tools include a contact management system; an interface to library systems containing references to literature and papers; and a dissemination system for marketing and information materials covering the hydro power industry (possibly the reports from the different IEA Annexes). Annex VII is scheduled to last for four years. The first phase covering the inventory and evaluation of suggested tools is likely to last for 1.5 years, with the second phase covering development, testing and implementation lasting 2.5 years.
Financing is still being finalised for HCN, and once this has been arranged it should be under way during the spring or early summer 2001. Japan, Norway and Sweden are currently involved in the project.
Parts of the solutions in HCN will be available before the formal start of the development process in Annex VII.
The concept is currently being evaluated for the basis of a development project in the Zambia-Sub-Sahara region.
Information on Annex VII will be presented in a website that will also serve as the entry point to parts of HCN as they are finalised. The web address will be www.annex7.iea.org. A link to this can be found at the Annex V website at http://220.127.116.11/iea and http://www.annexv.iea.org