Resourcing for effective asset closure: transition capability assessment and social benefits
By Ken Henderson, GHD Advisory; Dr Pallavi Mandke, GHD; Dr Ceit Wilson, GHD
Careful capability planning is critical to a successful asset closure with significant resources and skills needed for the delivery of execution activities. Asset closure transition is a phased process, and often involves the following five key phases: ramp-down or decommissioning; dismantling and asset recovery; de-energisation; demolition; and rehabilitation.
GHD’s closure and transition pathway is a considered process, offering flexibility for it to be tailored to individual operational requirements, while considering the long-term outcomes and community legacy and benefit.
Understanding whether the current operational workforce of an asset possesses the capabilities to safely and efficiently carry out tasks related to each asset closure phase is a critical component of the asset closure planning process. Despite its importance, this task is often not well understood or carried out with sufficient lead time, leading to inefficiencies during the closure execution phase as well as flow-on implications to the socio-economic wellbeing of the communities in which these operations occur.
GHD has developed a methodology to determine to what extent these resourcing challenges exist and how to address them to achieve the most optimal pathway from operations to closure execution. This methodology assesses the workforce readiness for closure execution in a snapshot towards the end of the life of an asset, and sets specific actions to closure while identifying specific gaps in the planning process. In this article we explore how retention and maximising the use of existing workforce and contractors throughout the various phases of closure can create a positive legacy for the community and reputation for the operations and/or company.
Challenges to workforce planning during asset closure
When an asset reaches its final years, it is common for key personnel to look for alternative employment rather than staying on until the asset closes. However, safe and effective management of asset operations during and post-ramp-down requires key skills are maintained at all levels in the organisation including managers, engineers, supervisors, planners, operators and trades persons.
In terms of a “hierarchy of need”, while it is necessary to have the appropriate hands-on skills at the trades level, these can often be more readily replaced by suitably qualified contractors. It will be more difficult to replace experienced management, engineers, planners, and supervisors who between them hold the collective knowledge of the organisation and the assets.
Similarly, the retention of key operating skills at all levels in the organisation is essential during the ramp-down period for the efficient and safe operation of the plant. In the lead-up to asset closure, specific reductions in the number of operations personnel commonly occur as a result of: a reduction in the number of shifts required to meet the Business Plan based upon the sales and production forecasts; termination of activities (e.g. development mining); a reduction in training and the need for “training reliefs”; and a reduction in the need for “holiday reliefs” as the time of closure draws nearer and less holidays are taken. However, the retention of some operating skills is required post-closure to ensure the critical infrastructure includingwater,drainage and powerremainoperational.
The risks associated with loss of key personnel are reduced if a skills/knowledge-based retention plan is established and implemented in the lead-up to asset closure, including incentives to ensure personnel stay for the duration required.
Transition capability assessment: a methodology
To understand the alignment of existing organisational capability and labour skills compatibility of the asset’s operational workforce with the works involved in the future site closure and rehabilitation, GHD has developed a tried and tested transition capability assessment methodology. The assessment findings determine whether the current operations and maintenance workforce possess capabilities to safely and efficiently carry out tasks related to the five defined key phases of closure, while considering appropriateness and several other significant factors. This initial assessment is succinct and high-level in nature and provides meaningful resourcing insights. It also considers if further follow-up is necessary.
GHD’s assessment process involves:
- Literature research into similar closure projects to determine recommendations provided in other similar case studies and industry guidance documents.
- Interviews with key personnel in the organisation such as the transition program manager, demolition project manager, operations manager, people (human resources) and culture teams.
- Tapping into GHD internal knowledge/experience by canvassing inputs from key professional staff engaged in other closure projects in Australia and overseas, as well as the input of experienced demolition contractors who have worked with GHD.
- Based on the understanding achieved from the abovementioned steps, GHD develops a matrix for the various phases of the project to assess the suitability of each type of personnel/organisation being considered. This includes operations, maintenance, general contractors, specialist contractors and management personnel. The matrix assesses at a high level the relative merits/suitability of the various options to undertake the phases of the closure transition process. Each type of personnel/ organisation is assessed for each phase while considering the following criteria:
- safety systems and awareness
- risk management
- lowest costs and efficiencies
- project management
Outcomes are then scored to a simple three-level approach:
- Best meets criterion – 3
- Moderately/partially meets criterion – 2
- Least meets criterion – 1.
Outcomes of the assessment for each phase of closure
As a result of GHD’s previous work and experience, along with industry insights and guidelines, GHD recommends:
- Ramp-down, decommissioning, asset recovery and de-energisation can be predominantly carried out by operations and maintenance labour, managed by the employer’s own management, with the support of specialist or general contractors, as required. This ensures that the knowledge and experience of the client personnel is utilised well.
- Demolition must be carried out and managed by a specialist contractor. There is a requirement to use trained, licenced personnel for this work. Integration and oversight should be by employer’s own management.
- Rehabilitation is usually best carried out by specialist contractors. Even when the employer has significant mining and earthmoving experience and equipment, rehabilitation typically requires specific landform development skills which are not necessarily those held by operators.
A graphical representation, indicating typical relative suitability for the respective phases of closure execution, is shown below. The higher scores indicate the greatest suitability for the resource category to execute the work.
Social benefits of the proposed model
In addition to the benefits of using the existing workforce and contractors throughout the various phases of closure, as outlined in the Transition Capability Assessment, maximising the use of the existing workforce (where and when possible), can also bring numerous social benefits. This can also assist in maintaining a ‘social license to operate/close’. Some of these additional benefits include:
- Retention of employment opportunities within the local communities/towns and therefore retention of the town economy, community wellbeing, positivity and sense of pride in the workplace and with the employer.
- An opportunity to continue engagement with Traditional Owners and Aboriginal community members, especially those who are part of the existing workforce and for assets where the land will be handed back to the Traditional Owners. Continuing engagement with these workers throughout the closure provides an opportunity to tap into local knowledge and aspirations to better inform the closure planning process. It also offers an opportunity to promote participation of Traditional Owners in the closure planning process through positive word of mouth among the existing Traditional Owner employees and those working through closure.
- Continued involvement of Traditional Owners employees and contractors will provide Traditional Owners an opportunity to care for country and a greater acknowledgement and awareness of the local environment, culture and land.
- Prolonged employment opportunities and involvement of Traditional Owners in the rehabilitation work would generate opportunities for Traditional Owners to return to country.
- An opportunity to continue knowledge-sharing and capturing information from the existing workforce for delivery of various phases of closure. This may require the upskilling of some workers through training. An investment in training of local staff would likely create greater social return by diversifying skills in the local workforce while potentially increasing their future employability.
- Engaging a number of contractors to provide engineering, mechanical, civil, earth works, type of services, especially when the production and resources assets are significant in size and scale. Where companies are required to supplement the organisational workforce during closure, the existing contractors (who are also often small local businesses) who have existing knowledge of the asset, would likely be an appropriate source of supplementary contractor services. They should be briefed on closure opportunities to enable them to upskill their staff and availability of closure related business opportunities.
- Engaging local workforce through the delivery of closure, will help to prolong the economic contribution by the asset in the local community and the region, gradually reducing the economic dependencies created in the communities. This will allow individuals, families, and the region as a whole to be better prepared for the eventual loss of the economic contribution by the asset, allowing much needed time for other economic diversification activities and processes to take shape.
Overall, maximising the use of existing workforce and contractors throughout the various phases of closure can create a positive legacy for the community and reputation for the company, however it does require detailed early planning to ensure that the timing of the closure phases supports this approach.
Careful capability planning is critical to a successful asset closure with significant resources and skills needed for the delivery of execution activities. It is common for key personnel to look for alternative employment rather than staying onsite or in the local community until the operation is closed and the closure process is complete. However, safe and effective management of asset operations during and post-ramp-down requires key skills are maintained at all levels in the organisation including managers, engineers, supervisors, planners, operators and trades persons.
The risks associated with loss of key personnel are reduced if a skills/knowledge-based retention plan is established and implemented in the lead-up to the asset closure, including incentives to ensure personnel stay for the duration required.
Understanding whether the current operational workforce of an asset possesses the capabilities to safely and efficiently carry out tasks related to each asset closure phase is therefore a critical component of the asset closure planning process. GHD has developed a methodology to determine to what extent these resourcing challenges exist and how to address them to achieve the most optimal pathway from operations to closure execution. This approach maximises the use of the existing workforce, and where possible, can also bring numerous social benefits while assisting in maintaining a ‘social license to operate/close’.
Ken Henderson, Executive
Advisor, Asset Management,
Dr Pallavi Mandke, Technical
Director and National Lead –
Social Sustainability, GHD
Dr Ceit Wilson, Senior