The Widening Competency Gap in Corrosion Management

By Pamela Boschee 26 Mar 2014

Effective asset integrity management can stumble for a number of reasons. Sometimes, the people responsible for the work drop the ball when it comes to putting together the big picture necessary for the assessment of a problem.

Ali Morshed, corrosion engineering specialist at Saudi Aramco, highlighted the shortcomings of the traditional education and training of corrosion engineers at the NACE Corrosion 2014 conference in March in San Antonio, Texas.

High oil prices in recent years, in tandem with an increasing number of companies that offer integrity management services, have increased the demand for competent and experienced corrosion engineers. Morshed said that university and on-the-job training have been considered the mainstays in preparing engineers for asset integrity management. However, in some cases, the traditional training methods have yielded engineers who could not carry out routine daily tasks competently and efficiently.

The initial competency of a new graduate engineer depends on the contents, qualities, and the organization of his or her education and training. In many cases, the situation is exacerbated by the retirement of the more experienced and competent colleagues without the transferring or sharing of knowledge and experience with others.

“Universities do a very good job of teaching the students about electrochemistry, corrosion basics and mechanisms, metallurgy, cathodic protection basics, and chemical treatments—the engineering related to corrosion,” Morshed said. “But they do not do as well in teaching failure risk assessment, the integrity review process, risk-based inspection, production of inspection scopes, or how to determine and use corrosion key performance indicators—the implementation of corrosion management principles.”

Operators and service companies have tried to bridge the resultant knowledge gap by providing mentoring or on-the-job training for their novice corrosion engineers by their more experienced and senior corrosion engineers. In theory, this approach should work.

However, the working environment and the workload are often such that the senior colleagues do not have adequate time to properly and comprehensively train the new engineer, he said. In most cases, the on-the-job training is haphazard and random, which does not promote the transfer of corrosion management knowledge and skills in an organized, structured, and effective manner.

Adding to the difficulty: the newly recruited engineers have been asked to not only act as the project corrosion engineers (sometimes with limited, if any, supervision and guidance), but have also been required to perform project management duties, such as time and resource estimates, time and cost control, and dealing directly with the clients, Morshed said.

He proposed several solutions to enable better preparedness of new engineers:

Universities should incorporate an introduction to “asset corrosion management” into their engineering courses to emphasize the distinction between corrosion engineering and corrosion management.
Only senior corrosion engineers who are conversant in corrosion management should be selected to serve as mentors for novice engineers.
The senior corrosion engineer should establish clear and well-defined learning objectives for on-the-job training, placing emphasis on corrosion management (since the engineering aspects have likely been handled by the university education).
More senior and experienced corrosion engineers should have opportunities for sharing their knowledge with their colleagues across the company through “lunch and learn” events, public presentations, or by producing brief technical guidance documents.

Morshed said that the goal is to “highlight to the trainee corrosion engineers that any balanced asset integrity management system comprises both corrosion engineering and corrosion management components.”

Pam Boschee is the Senior Editor for Oil and Gas Facilities.