A Blank Slate for Training

DCP Midstream sets aside the approaches of its former parent company and faces the challenge of ensuring that its far-flung employees are learning the same important technical material.

January 26, 2009

While Chevron invests huge sums in mentoring people, another, smaller energy company, DCP Midstream, is trying to improve skills with less fanfare—and a much smaller training budget. Given the sophisticated nature of jobs in the energy industry, e-learning is used as a refresher, not to teach new knowledge or skills, says Jim Marchiori, the Denver-based company's director of learning and development.

"Good training design is always going to push you as close to the point of use as possible. That's how people reinforce what they learn," Marchiori says, whose company uses e-learning for policy training and compliance.

Until 2007, DCP Midstream was a subsidiary of Duke Energy Corp., based in Charlotte, North Carolina. DCP now is owned in a 50-50 joint venture by Houston-based ConocoPhillips and Spectra Energy Corp., a new company that was created when Duke Energy spun off its natural gas division in 2006.

"In many ways, we're starting with a blank slate," having jettisoned most of Duke Energy's training policies and approaches, Marchiori says.

DCP Midstream is aiming to craft a "mixed model" of self-directed learning that blends a slate of required courses with alternatives that employees can learn at their discretion. The company employs about 2,500 people and runs 50 gas plants, spanning from Mobile, Alabama, to Carlsbad, New Mexico, and into Wyoming. DCP Midstream obtains fuel through various kinds of contracts, and then processes and markets it.

Being spread out and small has its advantages, but it makes training a costly headache, as does the variety of DCP Midstream's operations.

"For us, the challenge isn't numbers of people; it's geographic diversity. Gas composition in New Mexico is very different from that in Gulf of Mexico. Different kinds of plants have different equipment, so we have to be able to tailor our training to those circumstances," Marchiori says.

At the same time, "we want to make sure that a Midstream plant operator in Mobile Bay has the same skill as a Midstream operator in Greeley, Colorado. That has not been the case in the past, as this company has grown very rapidly through acquisitions," Marchiori says.

One of the company's top priorities in 2009 is to beef up the supervisory skills of its 300 managers, including 120 field supervisors. That involves making it clear to supervisors that coaching, mentoring and performance support are part of their responsibilities, Marchiori says.