HomeLearnEventsMI Capability and Competency Development: Spring 2023 “Meeting of the Minds”

MI Capability and Competency Development: Spring 2023 “Meeting of the Minds”

*As seen in Inspectioneering Journal’s July/August 2023 issue.

Earlier this year in Seattle, Inspectioneering and Pinnacle had the privilege of co-hosting our 11th “Meeting of the Minds” (MOTM) roundtable discussion, complete with stunning views and cuisine only the Pacific Northwest can provide. For over five years, this bi-annual meeting has brought together a select group of leaders in mechanical integrity (MI) to discuss pertinent issues related to fixed equipment reliability and to share their personal experiences and opinions. This diverse group of participants comes from various sectors of the industry, including oil refining, petrochemicals, offshore production, and chemical processing.

The theme of this discussion centered around Organization Capability and Competency Development. First, we polled the group on if and how they were assessing their fixed equipment reliability team’s capabilities. Next, we discussed the steps each organization is taking to develop and enhance the competency of its MI/Reliability personnel. Finally, we briefly talked about how recent advancements in inspection technologies, software, and data management have changed the roles and responsibilities of MI/Reliability personnel.

Assessing the Capabilities of Your Team

In any organization, it’s important to assess the skills and competencies of your team from time to time for numerous reasons. It could be you need to determine where critical skills gaps exist, or you need to understand where individuals are best suited for career advancement and growth planning. In any case, knowing where you stand helps your organization stay ahead of the curve on hiring and retaining top talent, and building a well-rounded team.

When we asked the group how they are assessing their fixed equipment reliability team’s capabilities, we received a range of responses. Some participants shared that they do not currently have a formal process or framework for assessing competency and capabilities, but are working to establish them. Other participants described how their companies have some sort of critical skills matrix defined for each position covering numerous competencies in fixed equipment mechanical integrity.

According to one participant, the first step in their process is to create a list of all of the relevant competencies and skills they would like each position to possess. These can be dictated at either the corporate or site level. Once your list is complete, you should input each competency/skill along the x-axis of the matrix and list each team member’s name along the y-axis. Keep in mind that certain positions require some, but not all, of those competencies, while others require a different group of competencies.

Typically, the next step is that each person completes a self evaluation where they grade themselves on a scale from 1 – 4.
1. No understanding or experience,
2. Some level of awareness or experience,
3. Strong understanding or extensive experience, or
4. Mastery of the subject or can do it in your sleep.

Following the self assessment, it’s a good idea to have the appropriate managers and frontline supervisors complete the same assessment for each individual and compare the scores to look for outliers. Then you review the scores to identify whether discrepancies exist between the competencies you need and actually have. If you’re satisfied with all the grades in all the areas you’ve identified for that position, more power to you. If you identify some gaps or shortcomings, begin taking steps to train up your personnel, or bring in new people possessing the needed competencies. The information gleaned from these assessments can also feed into your career development plans for each member of your team.

Developing Competency of MI/Reliability Personnel

After you’ve assessed your fixed equipment reliability team’s capabilities, there is often a need to further develop and enhance certain competencies for each position. One participant shared that his organization has recently come to the realization that in order to keep MI talent, you have to continue to progress it. They’re in the process of rolling out a formalized MI training plan over the next three to five years where all young engineers will be exposed to a combination of technical training, routine interactions with their leadership team, and exposure to relevant industry events like conferences and seminars.

Another participant stated that they have established training requirements that parallel their critical skills matrix. So whether you’re an inspector, RBI specialist, reliability engineer, etc., there are documented requirements to advance in that role. For example, they want their RBI specialists to have five years experience in the field to allow them to get to know the equipment, and also require them to complete approved RBI training classes. Then they rely upon each site to gauge their personnel to determine if they need extra help or if they need to be moved. “There are a lot of internal checks and balances to get people where we want them to be. If we see they need training, we’ll make recommendations and support their efforts to get better,” the participant said. They also offer cross-training opportunities for their inspectors, fixed equipment engineers, and corrosion engineers to take courses in areas that may be tangential to their day-to-day responsibilities, like Refinery Economics.

One of the other participants said he was incredibly proud of their internal training program for inspectors, stating “I’ve never seen anything like it in the industry, and honestly, had I’d been exposed to it, I’d have been a way better inspector.” He referred to it as an inspector boot camp, covering all major process units in a refinery. He went on to add that “we teach them every aspect of that unit; how it’s supposed to operate, not supposed to operate, relevant damage mechanisms, etc.” Others in the room who had some level of exposure to the inspector boot camp reiterated how exceptional the training was, stating that “it’s absolutely phenomenal for young inspectors to get exposed to the information included in that program.”

In addition to internal training programs, one participant explained how his company uses their turnarounds as an opportunity to enhance the competency of their MI/Reliability personnel across their facilities. He went on to say that they do a “Call for People” for each turnaround (e.g., I need some help with refractory, or I need some help with CUI inspection). So they’ll take somebody from a site in Pennsylvania and send them to work a job in Texas, which leads them to get outside of their routine, shadow new coworkers, and learn some things they didn’t already know.

Changing Roles and Responsibilities of MI/Reliability Personnel

Recent advancements in inspection technologies, software capabilities, and data management practices have altered certain roles and responsibilities of MI/Reliability personnel. When asking the group how these industry advancements have changed their teams, one participant quickly pointed out that he is seeing more and more reliability engineers brought in that five years ago would have been called data analysts. But with the sheer amount of data that’s being collected and analyzed at each facility nowadays, it makes sense to need that skill set on your team.
Similarly, another participant is seeing a growing need and appreciation for data analysts and web developers on his teams, stating that “it’s critical to have really strong IT development support because there are so many good tools we’re using that are constantly evolving. All these databases we now have are just databases, but’s what you do with that data that’s really important. Having someone on the team who knows how to understand the data, create dashboards to better-visualize the data, and actually leverage it is immensely valuable to our MI program. Identifying those individuals who are not only really skilled in that space, but also passionate about it, is critical to the success of our programs.”

Another participant commented that the blurring lines between engineering, inspection, reliability, and maintenance has really increased the importance of the “technical specialist” role; the utility player if you will. He said that “everybody has an engineering and inspection group and every plant has these “gray area” roles that everyone will agree we need. We just can’t agree which department they fall under. Specialist engineers, RBI software specialists, etc. that don’t always have the same qualifications, but all possess similar qualities.” He went on to say that “you can have a metallurgist role that isn’t degreed, but because they have spent 15-20 years dealing with welding and metallurgy and the relevant codes and standards, they are a critical asset to the MI team. Alternatively, you can have a degreed engineer that has the pragmatism, experience, and field time to actually understand what it’s like in the field and know what the equipment looks like in person. They’ve climbed through three stages of cyclones and tunneled a tower.” These are the technical specialists that have the blended competencies and experience to handle the “gray areas” of your plant. It’s the development of that in-between role that he believes to be a major change in the traditional MI/Reliability regime. “20 years ago, our central engineering group was composed of individuals that were narrowly focused, but had a deep understanding of what they were doing. Now, I see a much wider breadth of knowledge, however the depth of understanding is often not there,” one participant added.


This MOTM discussion emphasized the importance of routinely assessing the capability of your fixed equipment reliability team. Moreover, to sustain success and retain talent, it is imperative that companies continue to develop and enhance the competency of their MI/Reliability team through training and career development planning. Finally, the participants acknowledged that the industry is changing, and with that comes new roles and responsibilities for MI/Reliability personnel. As one participant put it, “you have to keep your finger on the pulse of this stuff, because if you don’t, you’ll quickly get left behind.”

Inspectioneering and Pinnacle would like to thank all of the participants for sharing their insights and experiences. We sincerely appreciate your participation in these discussions and your dedication to educating and advancing the Inspectioneering community.

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