With large numbers of people retiring in the coming years, the industry is emphasizing training opportunities more than ever.

When Zoeller Company started planning the development of its Center for Excellence training facility at its Louisville, Kentucky, headquarters a few years ago, educating its employees and others throughout the pump-related industry was the goal. But there was another important reason driving the need to increase training opportunities.

“We recognize that about 20 percent of our workforce (at the Louisville offices) would be able to retire in the next 10 years,” Zoeller Company Corporate Human Resources Director Dwight Newton said in a recent interview. Corporate-wide, Newton put the figure at about 15 percent. “That represents our most seasoned and knowledgeable staff, experience from all realms of both hands on the line all the way through senior management. It covers the gamut.”

He added, “It’s exciting, but it puts us in a position to have to think about, ‘How do we transfer the knowledge?’ And that is what the Center for Excellence was built for.”

Zoeller Company Center for ExcellenceImage 1. Zoeller Company’s Center for Excellence is a 12,000-square-foot training facility that opened in September 2015 at the company’s headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky. (Courtesy of Zoeller Company)

Zoeller is not alone. Numerous industries—not just within the pump-related world—are facing challenges associated with an aging workforce as members of the baby-boomer generation (those born between 1946 and 1964) are reaching retirement age at a reported rate of about 10,000 every day. “Many large, older companies are caught up in a tsunami of baby boomers retiring and are unaware of how much tribal knowledge they are taking with them,” Harvard Business School Professor Emerita Dorothy Leonard was quoted as saying in a January 2016 BloombergBusinessweek article.

The concern is felt throughout the pump-related industry as companies anticipate the retirement of experienced workers and place an extra emphasis on training opportunities for their employees and others within their business spheres. “We have identified the impending departure of longtime, knowledgeable employees due to retirement, etc. for several years,” Flowserve Vice President of Product Management Eric Van Gemeren said in an email to Pumps & Systems. “We have implemented training to transfer this knowledge (especially tribal knowledge) to younger associates.”

At Graco Inc., the pump manufacturer has observed impacts from departures around the industry. “As more and more long-term, experienced maintenance technicians are leaving the field, we see the skills gap increasing quite dramatically,” Mike Sandlin, the company’s global product marketing manager for the process division, said in an email.

“This gap also branches beyond end users and includes local industrial product distributors who have been viewed as product experts throughout the years for industrial plants. With the combined loss of knowledge at both the end user and distributor level, more time and effort are required than ever before to get industry professionals up to speed on the various industrial technologies,” Sandlin said.

Center for Excellence

Industry organizations such as the Hydraulic Institute and the Submersible Wastewater Pump Association are offering a host of educational opportunities for clients, while many pump-related companies are focusing on training as they prepare for the future. Zoeller and its Center for Excellence, a 12,000-square-foot facility that opened in September 2015, are a prime example of a company focused on education.

“This is not a new process—this is something we have been doing as long as we have been in business,” John Enyard, director of the Center for Excellence, said about providing education. “But we have seen it’s something that needed to be elevated to a different level. What we looked at is doing training, taking people into the shop, showing them what’s going on. … This has all been going on for a number of years. About three years ago, we decided we had to do it better at a more permanent location.”

Zoeller started construction in early 2015 on the Center for Excellence and completed the facility in September 2015. The company’s entire workforce has been through classes at the training site, and about 600 other people have received training at the facility. “It’s something that we have to do,” Enyard said.

“This is some of the stuff in the last two weeks that we have done: We have our customer support people, our product support people, come into a training, and they would take a pump apart … to install a new switch in it, so when they talk to customers on the phone, it’s not that they’re just reading it out of a manual. They have physically done it themselves,” Enyard said. “There’s nothing better than that to train somebody.”

During the same time frame, Zoeller provided safety training for the company’s shop personnel, while a group from Alaska traveled to the facility to learn.

Geiger Pump SymposiumImage 2. More than 300 people attended Geiger Pump & Equipment’s Mid-Atlantic Pump & Process Equipment Symposium XI on Oct. 6, 2016, in Aston, Pennsylvania. The daylong event included educational sessions involving centrifugal pump repairs, pump system optimization, wastewater challenges and more. Representatives from several companies attended to inform attendees about their products and services. (Photo by Martin J. Reed/Pumps & Systems)

“We’re using a lot of technology, doing videos, using screens, but one of the main things we try to do here is for every hour in the class, we want an hour of hands-on,” Enyard said. “The technology is great, but I’m old-school—if you don’t pick it up, if you don’t touch it, if you don’t smash your hand on it, you don’t learn.”

Demand for Training

At Grundfos, Steve Schmitz, the company’s director of technical education for the Americas, has seen a booming demand for training offered by the Grundfos Technical Institute, which provides a range of courses from the beginning through the advanced level. “Absolutely, it’s been growing since we started it” in 2015, Schmitz said in an interview.

“I don’t see anything changing that’s going to lessen it. With rules and regulations in industry becoming more paramount and restrictive, people who are putting buildings up and designing systems that are going into them have their hands full,” he said. “We view our job here as a way to help them along in that process.”

The Grundfos Technical Institute addresses the growing need to provide qualified, educated workers throughout the industry, Schmitz said. “It does touch on whether you have a lot of retirements in your system or not. It does touch on if you have the most qualified people in your positions that you’re filling,” he said.

“People who are more knowledgeable about the products and applications they can go into can first of all realize the issues the customers have and give the most correct answer to the problem,” Schmitz said. “It’s always been very important for Grundfos that we have people who are properly trained in the marketplace.”

The Grundfos Technical Institute serves workers in North and South America by providing virtual classroom courses and webinars that are “100 percent free,” Schmitz said. “The only thing we charge for is face-to-face courses,” he said, but “in the last couple of years, we have … really moved away from the traditional model that’s out on the marketplace, the face-to-face training.”

The virtual courses allow anyone with an internet-connected tablet or computer to learn about a myriad of subjects at their own pace. Courses are available in Spanish and English. Visitors to the website grundfos.us/training can register for courses in categories including agriculture and irrigation; commercial and residential plumbing; heating, ventilation and air conditioning; fire pumps; municipal water systems; water treatment and dosing systems; and more.

“If you look at the courses some of these students are taking coming out of the engineering schools, there’s not as much focus as you would see on basic foundational blocks,” Schmitz said. “Our approach is very much an application-based approach, what is the best-practice way to accomplish what is trying to be done.”

Considering the courses are free and students can take them at home or from an office, the demand at the Grundfos Technical Institute continues to increase.

“It’s expensive to travel and even more so having people out of the office for several days,” said Schmitz, noting that thousands of people have taken courses since 2015. “Grundfos employees, depending on their job positions in the company, are required to do a certain number of courses every year. … Outside of the company—overwhelmingly where we see the usage—it comes from all spectrums across the board as far as titles and positions.”

Hands-On Learning

One day last October, beneath one of the four big-top tents temporarily set up at Geiger Pump & Equipment Company’s facility in Aston, Philadelphia, the company’s Todd Jenner led a class on centrifugal pump assembly and repair. The bustling activity at the facility signaled the arrival of Geiger’s Mid-Atlantic Pump & Process Equipment Symposium XI.

Rebekah MackoImage 3. Geiger Pump & Equipment’s Rebekah Macko talks about pump system optimization during the company’s Mid-Atlantic Pump & Process Equipment Symposium XI on Oct. 6, 2016, in Aston, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Martin J. Reed/Pumps & Systems)

Dozens of end users from a broad spectrum of industrial applications gathered around workbenches as they received instructions about disassembling pumps during Jenner’s hands-on class. As he talked about condition monitoring, Jenner likened the real-time monitoring provided by a Fitbit tracker to the Goulds i-ALERT2 device that provides up-to-the-second condition reporting on a pump or other machine.

Geiger’s Symposium is a biennial event that offers a host of classroom sessions on pump repair, pump system optimization, wastewater challenges and more. At the 2016 event, more than 300 people representing 100 customer organizations attended, along with representatives of several manufacturers who discussed their latest products.

Todd JennerImage 4. Geiger Pump & Equipment’s Todd Jenner leads a class on centrifugal pump assembly and repair during the company’s Mid-Atlantic Pump & Process Equipment Symposium XI, Oct. 6, 2016, in Aston, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Martin J. Reed/Pumps & Systems)

Geiger President Henry Peck said the educational events are an important way to help train customers and learn about their needs. “It gives us an opportunity to understand their business as well because now you have a forum,” Peck, who serves on the Pumps & Systems Editorial Advisory Board, said in an interview at the Symposium. “We learn from them, and they learn from us.”

With many longtime workers retiring in the coming years, the need for reliable training opportunities is more critical than ever, said Chris Brown, Geiger’s executive vice president. “I think there is a huge need, and there are not enough people generating that content,” Brown said. “That’s a big piece where we can fit. … We see a position for ourselves where we can play a role in that next generation of training.”

Jeff Warden, a maintenance technician with NuStar Energy in Baltimore, Maryland, said training sessions, including those organized by Geiger, help provide valuable knowledge for workers. “They’re very important because of the various applications,” Warden said. “Everything we do is hands-on. The more hands-on we get, the better we can be.”