Knowledge and cool on display at national skills competition

Workforce |  3 min. read

Ever have something go wrong at work?

Maybe your computer crashed just before you saved the final version of a report you’d spent the whole day working on.

Maybe the robot arm painting cars on the assembly line, started spraying the other robot arm painting cars instead.

Or maybe, somebody took the last cup of coffee without making a fresh pot.

These things happen.

But what happens next — depends a lot of how prepared you are for something going wrong.

And if your job is watching over billions of dollars’ worth of equipment at a refinery or a chemical plant — you definitely want to be ready.

So every year, students who are learning to be those process technicians — get to test themselves, to put their knowledge and their cool on display in a national Troubleshooting Skills Competition.  The competition is put on by NAPTA (the North American Process Technology Alliance) and supported by the companies that make up the fuel and petrochemical industries — where many of the best and brightest of those process operators will find work.

The students come in teams, from the community colleges around the country where they study — and they work in teams, just as they will on the job.  In the competition, they are watching screens and gauges and meters — monitoring streams of video and data from machinery like pumps and compressors, reporting temperatures and pressures and flow rates.

These are good jobs incidentally.  Process technicians are well-paid (starting at $20-30 an hour).  In some jobs, you can start right out of high school — others require a two-year degree (which is the path this year’s troubleshooting teams are on). And by the way, companies in the fuels and petrochemical industries are hiring!

And then.

And then “something” happens.  Something unexpected.  A screen goes out, a temperature spikes, a pump stops working.  Meanwhile alarms are going off, lights are flashing, and maybe, someone rushes in shouting, “We’re out of coffee!”

The job of these technicians in training?  Figure out how to figure out what’s going on and how to fix it.  There are wrong answers, but there’s also more than one right answer.  Speed matters, an expensive piece of equipment may be in peril) — knowledge is important (you’ve got to know your way around all this gear) — but it’s just as essential to be resourceful. You don’t have to go full MacGyver, but the solution isn’t just knowing which page of the manual to flip to and to have a cool head (Alarms! Lights!  No coffee!).

Oh, and of course, you’ve got to “trust the process.”  (Sorry, that’s a little process technician humor.)

The industry folks at this year’s troubleshooting competition were impressed by how the students met those challenges — and that’s a good thing, because over the next few years, the fuels and petrochemical industries figure to hire more than a million (yes, ONE MILLION) men and women, and there will be plenty of process technician jobs among them.

Want one more number?  $4 billion.  That’s how much companies in the industry are investing, just this year, into facility expansion and the construction of new units or plants, creating hundreds of new jobs (so it’s no wonder they’re hiring).

Meantime, if you’re hiring now — and you’re in the market for some proven trouble-shooters, the winners of this year’s competition were the “Rajun Ravens” from San Jacinto College.  You’ll find their campuses in and around Houston.

And if you’d like to see a little of the “process”, here’s a bit of video from the 2019 event:  NAPTA Troubleshooting Skills Competition III.