Staffing optimisation - the increasing dependence on contracted labour

Paul Boughton
A power plant maintenance outage is generally considered to be successful when it is completed on time and within budget. Many factors influence the successful completion of an outage, but the single most important factor is the human factor. It is essential to match a well defined work scope with appropriately qualified personnel. For this reason, availability of personnel must be a key driver in the decision of when to schedule the work.

November to April marks the outage peak season for the Middle East, as such the demand for skilled labour in the region has increased significantly. A lack of locally available craft professionals has necessitated the use of global contracting firms such as Aspecto Ltd to fill the skills gap, with engineers and skilled professionals being sourced from across the globe. As the outage peak season ends in the Middle East, that of Europe and North America comes online.

Deregulation in the energy markets has led to increased optimisation efforts with respect to outage scheduling. This has resulted in periods of intense outage activity, known as the outage peak. This cyclicality creates a challenge for plant maintenance departments in defining optimal staffing levels creating a rising number of hard to fill vacancies (HTFV) during peak season.

According to the National Employers Skills Survey, 2007 over half of UK power sector companies said they had experienced an increased cost due to HTFV vacancies, and almost a third said they had actually lost business to competitors.Within the power sector, 88.5 per cent of organisations have suffered from an increase in workload on other staff due to HTFV. Fatigue is the result of long working hours or poorly designed shift patterns.

According to the UK HSE, (Fatigue) 'results in slower reactions, reduced ability to process information, memory lapses, absent-mindedness, decreased awareness, lack of attention, underestimation of risk, reduced coordination'. Fatigue is the root cause of many major incidents.

To combat this negative effects of the cyclic nature of the plant outage business, plant owners rely on third party manpower suppliers during periods of peak demand. This enables them to operate an optimal staffing profile during the off season, and rely on an outsourced pool of personnel during the peak season. With a large number of experienced personnel due to retire, it is expected that the role of global third party manpower suppliers will become even more prominent. Aspecto commissioning and maintanence services is a global manpower supplier focussing on the power sector. It specialises in the supply of experienced and qualified professionals.

Zlatko Popovic, CEO of Aspecto, says: "We have seen a steady increase in the demand for our services over the past 4-5 years. Customers usually approach us to fill the labour gap during peak outage season or to supply labour for an unexpeced outage."

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Markus Keller is Business Development Manager with Aspecto GmbH, Fislisbach, Switzerland.

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