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Engaging Sessions Keep Automation Team Connected to Company, Each Other During Pandemic

By Yvette Anguiano

In-depth presentations boost technical skills.

During the pandemic, when companies are straining to reach profit goals, training and career development can get left behind.

On the Automation team, our workload has always kept us overwhelmingly busy. Before the pandemic, my peer Peter Gabrek would find himself asking several important questions each week regarding controls strategies, how mechanical and electrical systems worked, and everything in between regarding our coordination and involvement on projects. He found it wasn’t best to ask these questions during issuances, but he kept a running list of questions to ask later.

One day, he set up a time to discuss these items with the more experienced engineers on our team. Since our team is composed of several young engineers, including myself, an informal forum was created on a biweekly basis for the team to discuss lessons learned and ask all our questions. It was not a structured discussion, and we did not take the best notes.

When we started working remotely, we realized this was not the best format for the virtual setting. We decided to create formal presentations to not only share with the Automation team but also to share with the rest of the company as a training opportunity. With the start of our series “Controls 101,” Peter and I participated in informal brainstorming sessions with our technical experts including Steve Brown and Jasen Howard. During our brainstorming sessions, we dove deep into the hard-technical aspects of controls and formulated presentation ideas to share across trades. Oftentimes, Peter and I found we were no longer just asking the questions, but then also doing the research, pulling together a presentation, and presenting as the subject matter experts to the company on behalf of the Automation team.

Overall, our bi-monthly sessions have been a huge success, and here are the top reasons why:

  1. We learned so much more by asking the questions, researching them, and presenting than if we just watched someone else speak. For example, I asked why we specified certain instrumentation devices, researched how the devices worked and the manufacturers we specified, gathered the key ideas behind our specifications, and presented it to the company.
  2. By opening these sessions up to the rest of the company, we had better overall engagement and great input from other experienced engineers that will facilitate earlier design coordination on future projects. One of our sessions covered Chilled and Condenser Water System design, which provoked thoughtful coordination discussions between our technical experts, Frank Moccio and Mike Stark.
  3. These sessions have given our team the opportunity to not only train our technical skills but gain equally important soft skills such as public speaking and communication that we as engineers may not focus on a daily basis.
  4. Lastly, this activity has kept our team connected during this time on a social and technical aspect. Our informal sessions let us go into all tangents and directions, while our formal sessions have provided us the opportunity to continue learning from one another throughout this time.

When you’re inundated with hectic project schedules and hampered by the uncertainty of today’s world, it may seem like training should be put on the backburner, but career development and training should always be a priority on top of delivering projects. These technical series are a great way to continue organic thought-provoking conversations and keep the team engaged in a remote setting.

To learn more about how our Automation is staying connected and maintaining training during the pandemic, reach out to ESD’s Automation team

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