As oil and gas and related industries adapt to the generational shift in the workforce, Ken Stevens, director of reliability for INVISTA, said he believes the younger generations’ prolific use of cell phones brings knowledge that can be applied to practical professional use.

“Every high school student today has a phone in his or her hand,” Stevens said. “They’ve been digitized to some extent and have used technology, whether it’s iOS or Android. Either one of those devices could be synced, so we’re taking that same approach in our plants. We’re digitizing those activities with those devices.”

Cell phones have already been approved for use in INVISTA plants, Stevens said, “so these devices can be used easily and appropriately.”

Stevens noted INVISTA is striving to engage employees in order to “tap into” their knowledge.

“We’re getting solutions from kids right out of college,” he said, participating in a panel discussion titled “From ideas to practice: Proof of concept testing to integration into work” at the Downstream Exhibition & Conference held recently in Houston. “You get a student who has been in college, and they can solve a problem quicker than an engineer who has maybe 20 years of experience because they’re approaching it in a whole different way. So we have lots of different applications where we get a student, give them a phone and let them solve it.”

Jon Bach, asset management specialist for Afton Chemical, said cell phones and handheld technology are helping his company “get things more in front of people,” which is enhancing safety.

“We have a program where, when somebody recognizes a safety issue and they point out something, we put that into a database,” Bach said. “Now they can enter it electronically, and we have a visual that pops up on people’s screens. They can scroll and see it.”

Startups, shutdowns and safety

Recognizing the most critical periods for a plant occur during startups and shutdowns, Stevens said INVISTA has chosen to develop electronic startup procedures, enabling bore operators to follow particular stops and safety steps along the way.

“The machine is actually taking the plant through the procedures all the way up through full production, taking away that human element of having to start up a machine, identify a procedure and follow it,” Stevens said. “So the bore operator is now the safety steward. He’s focused on what’s out of bounds and what he can do to bring that back in.”

Tony Barre, former global maintenance and reliability director for The Dow Chemical Company, noted this “workforce generational thing” is impacting various processes.

“The younger people grew up with iPhones and apps, so they have no problem,” he said. “But with the older generation that’s been working 20 or 25 years, there’s much more of a problem to adapt to some of this technology.”

A generational gap may also become apparent when less experienced personnel attempt to pitch new ideas about processes or technology to long-term, more experienced upper management and executives, especially when that pitch’s value may not show immediate returns.

Barre recommended less experienced managers adopt the mindset of the people they’re trying to convince.

“Understand what their concerns are from their perspectives, and try to address those in anything you’re trying to pitch,” he said. “How are you going to protect data access and these kinds of things, especially in the digital world where there is the information security concern? There was always risk aversion from that perspective.”