Thursday, February 27, 2014

Developing a Workforce: Consider the options

It is no secret that the manufacturing sector in the United States has been declining for several years; however, momentum is turning around. According to the National Association of Manufacturers’ website, manufacturers contributed $1.87 trillion to the economy in 2012, up from $1.73 trillion in 2011. This was 11.9 percent of GDP. For every $1.00 spent in manufacturing, another $1.48 is added to the economy, the highest multiplier effect of any economic sector.

It is obvious that for the U.S. to remain a powerhouse in the global economy, the manufacturing sector must continue to grow. If you are a business owner, you know that increasing your workforce creates many challenges, particularly when special skill sets are needed, such as welding. When advanced job skills are required, such as welding exotic metals in different positions, an employer has two options.

First, the company can attempt to hire someone who already possesses the needed knowledge, skills, and abilities, but that individual is typically in high demand and may require a high salary just to get them through the door. Plus, retention of these workers is difficult since they will likely have multiple opportunities available to them.

Second, an employer can develop a highly skilled workforce from within by hiring a person with few or basic skills, but with the right kind of character and potential. Then the difficulty is how to train the newly hired workers in the skillsets the company needs.

One alternative is to place the new hire in the plant, along-side a more experienced worker for on-the-job training (OJT). But this could take many months and reduces the productivity of the experienced personnel. A second alternative is to hire graduates of a trade school or community college who have the basic skill knowledge. However, this still requires a lengthy OJT process for the new hire to learn the specialized skills and techniques needed by the company.

Now there is a third option: on-site, fast-track training for entry-level employees that is customized to the skillsets the company needs.

Your Training Partner for On-site Training

This innovative option to developing your workforce is to contract with a training partner that will take your new and existing workforce and develop the exact skill set needed to satisfy your specific requirements. This revolutionary new attitude toward training can take new hires with no skills and turn them into a productive labor force within weeks, not months.

The key aspect of this type of training involves providing an intensive, hands-on class right at the start. Once the new hires have been certified to the required level, then the on-the-job training can begin, with much less time, supervision, and hand-holding than is normally required. The training partner brings the training and all equipment needed to your facility to maximize skills development. A real bonus to this type of training is that it instills commitment and loyalty on the part of the trainees and the hiring company. The trainees are more productive and retention rates are vastly improved.

Mobile Outreach Skills Training (M.O.S.T.)

One example of this on-site training partnership is the Advanced Manufacturing Skills Training provided by Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) Knowledge Engineering. The M.O.S.T.® (Mobile Outreach Skills Training) Certified Welder program is a 2- or 3-week course customized to a company’s products. Certifications are offered for carbon steel and exotic materials in 1G through 6G positions. All training is delivered on-site at the manufacturing facility, utilizing a state-of-the-art welding simulator and expert instructors on the M.O.S.T. mobile unit.

Since this intensive skills training program began in Florida in 2008, the completion rate has been 94% with a 90-day retention rate of 91%.

If you are interested in learning more about the M.O.S.T.® Certified Welder program, visit our website or contact Lisa Mutchler at:, 979-458-6722 or (800) 541-7149

Friday, January 10, 2014

Finding the right stuff: Selecting the right search and rescue dog

Plant explosions, tornadoes, wildfires, and other events made 2013 a busy year for rescue teams.  No matter what the situation, everyone’s safety and success depends on the dedication and training of each teammate – including our canine companions. Search and rescue dogs, like those in Texas Task Force 1’s canine group, are often the first to respond to a crisis or disaster.  Have you ever wondered how these dogs “make the team,” or what it takes to find just the right search dog? We’ll take a look at key characteristics of a good search dog, and some of the main factors in the selection process.

Youthful exuberance or mellow maturity?

One of the first decisions when selecting a search dog is whether to choose a puppy or an adult.  Each has pros and cons to consider when looking for the right match for an individual or organization.

Cuddly, cute, fun, playful…these words come to mind when thinking of a puppy. These characteristics can make working with puppies enjoyable, and of course, there can be a wide variety of puppies from which to choose. Since becoming a search dog is a bit like earning a college degree, starting the training early can also help.
On the flip side, puppies can only learn so much at a time – like kids (and some adults!) they have shorter attention spans and they will take longer to train. More time has to be spent initially just learning manners and simple commands, which adult dogs may have already learned. “Puppy tests” are poor predictors, so sometimes a great deal of training time has already been spent when we realize that a particular pup just isn’t cut out for the job. Also, puppies may develop physical or temperament problems as they get older.  

If a puppy is selected, the key is to select a puppy from parents who have good kids!

Choosing an adult search dog offers a whole different set of tradeoffs. In a nutshell, what you see is what you get. Adult search dogs offer a high prediction of success, reduced training time, and the ability to screen for physical problems. Disadvantages include a limited number of quality candidates to choose from, and in some cases limited knowledge about the dog’s early years and genetic history for breeding purposes. Some of these can be overcome by choosing a dog from a breeder who has raised them from a puppy, but many good candidates can be found at shelters, or even in your own backyard!
Selecting a sociable dog with a drive to succeed

Screening tips
Before beginning training, a careful selection process is essential in locating the right dog for this difficult job. To make the first cut, the canine candidate must be in good physical condition, at an ideal weight and maturity, and able to handle themselves in unfamiliar settings. During a screening process, it is important to look for sociability; composure; comfort around other dogs and people; and drive. These characteristics are important so that the dog can do its job in the often uncomfortable and unfamiliar working environments faced by disaster search and rescue canines. One way to screen for composure is have dogs search for a toy in a novel setting, and observe the dog’s willingness and reaction to the challenge.

Instinct, Drive and Focus
Ideally, a search dog can be found who was “born for the job”; one who has great instincts and a drive to perform.  To measure drive, a handler should assess the dog’s willingness to hunt for a non-visible toy for at least one minute, while the dog is in a typical disaster search environment.  A reliable measure of drive is independent possession. For this assessment, the handler plays with the dog, and once the dog is engaged with a toy, the handler ignores the dog for 1 minute. A dog that plays vigorously with the toy, guards it, or maintains focus on it for the entire minute that the handler is disengaged is a dog with the drive to succeed. If you’ve properly screened a dog…they practically train themselves!

Testing and Training
After the screening process, testing and certification is the final phase before a search dog goes on the job. The Certification Evaluation is performed by FEMA US&R (Urban Search and Rescue) teams about nine times a year. In order to pass the certification test, Canine Search Specialists and their canine partners need to search two search areas (simulating disaster sites) and locate the victims completely hidden in the rubble.  The teams have only 20 minutes to search each rubble pile! The certified teams need to retest every three years to maintain their deployability status. In order to attend one of these evaluations, testing teams need to be part of a FEMA (federal) or SUSAR (state) US&R Task Force.

Once the testing is complete, the handler will continue to evaluate the dog’s performance and incorporate lessons learned into training sessions. Because of a proven screening process, training time, which previously took 1-2 years, has been reduced to about six months. The canine members of TX-TF1 train at Disaster City®, which is also a FEMA-recognized training facility. With proper training and certification, the K9 will now be ready to respond … prepared to search for victims of the next disaster.
For more information about TX-TF1 K9 Training, contact Susann Brown at or at 979-458-5681.

by Susann Brown, K9 Training Manager, Texas Task Force 1.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Response to Alberta flood emphasizes importance of structural collapse training

In June 2013, I responded to one of the largest natural disasters to ever strike the province of Alberta, Canada. The severe weather and disastrous flood that struck on June 20 claimed four lives and left an estimated $500 million or more in damages. More than 100,000 people in southern Alberta were evacuated, including everyone in downtown Calgary.

I was deployed for more than two weeks - with Canadian Task Force 2 and then as part of the Strathcona County Emergency Services Technical Rescue Team from Sherwood Park, Alberta.

This response reinforced for me the importance of emergency response training, especially the training in structural collapse and rescue techniques I received at Disaster City® through the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service.

Initially, Canadian Task Force 2 was assigned to assist with search and evacuation. The first 40-hour push was very busy and very aggressive on evacuation. We were doing a lot of structural assessment triage and damage assessments, going from house to house in neighborhoods. I definitely used the hard skills I learned in Advanced Structural Collapse courses at TEEX. I knew what to look for in assessing buildings and structural damage. Before the deployment ended, we had facilitated 6,500 structural assessments.

After the 40-hour push, we were asked to protect critical infrastructure, including keeping water out of a large communications hub. Other people were assigned to protect the energy and electrical hubs for the city. No matter what your ‘title,’ you have to be flexible in a deployment – you often have to be a ‘jack-of-all-trades.’

We were very fortunate. Working with the Calgary Fire Department and using pumps, we were able to keep the infrastructure working except the electric power in the immediate impact area.

Down the river from Calgary, the town of High River, population 13,000, was very hard hit by the flooding. After Canadian Task Force 2 was demobilized, I deployed with the Strathcona County Technical Rescue Team to assist in High River. One of the severely damaged areas was where two rivers converged in the community.

Working with a structural engineer, we set up a mapping system and planned how to assess each structure. There were many challenges, including a mobile home park where most of the homes had been displaced. Just going through this neighborhood when every home had been moved was a challenge to figure out which home went where and its original address. In other areas of the community, street signs and homes had been moved or washed away, so we had to conduct size-up, categorize the homes by a marking system and reestablish the original location.  We mapped out and evaluated 80 structures, checking walls, looking for cracks or shifting, checking window and door openings, and looking for movement of electrical and gas hookups.

Although we train to respond to natural disasters, the devastation we encountered during this incident was difficult to process. Your training just kicks in. The real-world training I received at TEEX helped prepare me for this response. One of the biggest plusses is the realism of the props at Disaster City. Everything there has been engineered to look like it’s been damaged or stressed, so you shift into that mindset. The instructors quiz you about what you are seeing, and what to look for in damaged structures, so you can apply this concept to a real world disaster.  
The training evolutions possible at Disaster City and the efficiency of the instruction provide a real-world tempo – the instructors keep you going, going, going. The props are set up to facilitate time on task and training, without downtime for resetting a prop, whether it is concrete breaching or shoring. The logistical support means downtime is minimized; tools are switched out promptly. This efficiency and real-world tempo go together for an excellent training experience. And the structure of the training means teams from different nations could integrate together in multinational teams very well.

Also, the background and knowledge of the full-time and adjunct instructors are phenomenal. They are people who have had real world experience with large-scale incidents. Some of the participants in the Advanced Structural Collapse 4 class last April were members of Texas Task Force 1 and had to leave during the class to deploy to a fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas.

When I returned for the Advanced Structural Collapse 5 class, they did a presentation to the group about the recent deployment and lessons learned. They give you takeaways from their experience that you can apply. It’s this type of real-world experience and hands-on training you can’t get anywhere else. I feel very fortunate to have been exposed to this specialized training, and it’s having a ripple effect here in Alberta.

I first came to Disaster City in January 2010 and spent my best birthday ever -– breaking concrete. Even though I’ve been back several times since then, you can’t appreciate the scope and the scale and the structural details until you are inside Disaster City.  Every time I go back, it’s another ‘Wow’ moment. The whole experience has been phenomenal.

~ Lt. Russ Bubenko serves on the operations staff of the Strathcona County Emergency Services, Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada. He is also a member of Canadian Task Force 2, and is currently one of three Canadians to earn the US&R Rescue Specialist Certificate from TEEX.