I’m Jason Firth.
This June will mark the 9th year that I’ve been working in heavy industry.
I started my career and spent four years in design and maintenance planning and another 5 years as a technician. Of all the pieces of advice I wish that I’d been given this one is probably the most important: don’t give the people what they ask for; give them what they need.
Something to remember is that as an instrument technician or an engineering technologist or an engineer you have depth of knowledge regarding instrumentation, control, and automation that regular operations and maintenance personnel don’t have. Sometimes they’re asking for one very specific piece of equipment, but if you give them that piece of equipment you’re going to get in trouble because it’s not going to work.
One very specific example came from my time in the pulp & paper industry. Creating pulp and paper takes an incredible amount of power. One of the ways that paper mills get this power without excessive costs is by burning the bark has been removed from trees before their used in the paper process. This removed bark is called hog. This hog is then send to a hog bin which is attached to a power boiler which burns the hog to produce steam, which is in used throughout the process. I was asked to put one of two extremely specific level switches on one of these hog bins. Instead I started looking at the history of the unit, and discovered that that level transmitter has already been tried and has been removed because it didn’t work. I looked at all the different environmental concerns within the bin, and decided on a completely different level measurement than what they asked for. However, this level measurement worked. By giving them what they wanted instead of what they were asking for, my internal customers were far happier with the result.
As a technician, I end up with many extremely similar circumstances. The difference is that whereas they wanted me to design a level measurement before here they would ask me to do the same maintenance task over and over and over again. The company was wasting money on me, the Operations Group wasn’t getting the control that they needed, there was no reason to keep on giving them what they were asking for. Instead, I focused on what the real problem was. In many of these cases, I was able to find a problem that no one ever knew existed. By giving them what they needed instead of what they asked for everybody won.
Let me be clear: I’m not suggesting insubordination. There is a chain of command in workplaces, and it isn’t a good career move to violate it. However; in most cases, you have some latitude to make decisions that you think will work best. If you don’t have that latitude, you are still a voice within your team, and you may be able to change minds if you provide a good reason for people to listen.
If you get this right, and manage to give people what they need and want instead of exactly what they ask for, you’re going to look like a miracle worker.
Thanks for reading!