As part of the effort by the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Labor to develop Voluntary Industry Skill Standards, the U.S. Department of Education awarded a grant to the American Chemical Society to develop "Voluntary Industry Skill Standards for Chemical Process Industries Technical Workers." The term Chemical Process Industries (CPI) was defined to include employers who add value to their products through the application of chemistry or who apply chemistry to meet their responsibilities as research organizations or as monitors/controllers of chemicals. The CPI technical workers were divided according to two principal occupations: chemical laboratory technicians (CLTs) and plant technical operators (PTOs).
Voluntary Industry Skill Standards are statements that describe a broad consensus about the knowledge and performance skills that entry-level chemical laboratory technicians and plant process operators are expected to have when they begin working in the chemical process industries. These statements are intended to provide guidance to educators for curriculum planning, instructional strategy designing, and related activities. All such entry-level workers are not expected to attain the same degree of skill for each statement.
The 36-month project was awarded in two phases. Phase I, which began in June 1993, has been completed and the results presented in the report titled, "Foundations for Excellence in the Chemical Process Industries" (November 1994).
Phase I focused on determining the knowledge and skills entry-level CPI technical workers should bring to the workplace. Input was derived from employers representing various parts of the CPI and diverse geographical locations; government and university laboratories; unions who represent technical workers; academicians who work closely with industry; and representatives of industry associations and professional societies. Data were obtained from the members of a Steering Committee, who developed policies and directions for the project; members of a Coordinating Committee, who provided direction and review; human resource managers, technical managers, and other leaders, who focused on the future; and CPI technical workers, who provided insights to the actual work done by technical workers in plants and laboratories. The result was a comprehensive set of voluntary industry skill standards for CPI technical workers. The data were validated by more than 440 reviewers.
Both CPI technical worker occupations were considered to be highly important to the industry now and in the future. The diversity of the CPI results in the need for technical workers to apply entry-level knowledge and skills to a broad variety of different plant and laboratory operations. Plant operations range from manufacturing using batch processes for small quantities of specialty chemicals to very large scale chemical and petroleum continuous processes. Laboratory operations range from routine quality testing to synthesis of new compounds. CPI technical workers possess skills that also are required by many other industries, including the biological, electronic, geological, and environmental science companies and laboratories.
CPI technical workers are experiencing a period of great change in performance expectations, and their responsibilities are being increased. Some employers have structured their work to require narrow training for CPI technical workers; others are structuring a workplace that requires much broader knowledge and skills of these same workers. Relationships among all workers in science and technology workplaces are being changed by many employers in ways that demand responses by both secondary and post-secondary educational institutions.
Data were collected from small groups (maximum of 18 participants) at analysis sessions in Baton Rouge, LA; Cincinnati, OH; Berkeley, CA; Chicago, IL; Newark, NJ; and Research Triangle Park, NC. The locations were chosen to represent both geographic and industry differences across the nation. Each session involved 10- 18 CLTs and PTOs and was conducted using a modified DACUM (Design A CUrriculuM) process. The DACUM process is used by different kinds of institutions to ascertain what specific groups of workers do and what knowledge and skills are required by the jobs. This process gave each participant an opportunity to contribute much detail. The sessions at Baton Rouge, Cincinnati, and Newark consisted of combined groups of CLTs and PTOs. The remaining sessions were divided into homogeneous groups of CLTs and PTOs.
The sessions focused on: (1) identifying critical job functions, which are performed by many workers in each occupational group; (2) the tasks conducted in performing the critical job functions; and (3) the performance skill standards required to perform the tasks. The performance skill standards were further separated into two groups: (1) employability performance skill standards, which were pertinent to all of the critical job functions; and (2) technical performance skill standards, which were critical job function specific. The employability skill standards were further categorized as:
- mathematics and statistics;
- computer literacy;
- workplace; and
- general skills applicable to most plants or laboratories, as appropriate to the occupation.
The critical job functions performed by the CLTs are:
- Maintain a safe and clean laboratory adhering to environmental health and safety regulations.
- Conduct physical tests.
- Sample and handle chemical materials.
- Perform chemical analysis.
- Perform instrumental analysis.
- Plan and design experiments.
- Synthesize compounds.
The critical job functions performed by PTOs are:
- Maintain safety, health, and environmental standards in the plant.
- Handle, store, and transport chemical materials.
- Operate, monitor, and control continuous processes.
- Operate, monitor, and control batch processes.
- Provide routine and preventive maintenance and service to processes, equipment, and instrumentation.
- Analyze plant materials.
Each critical job function has associated with it 10-14 tasks and a similar number of technical performance skill standards, which are presented in detail starting on page 23 of this report.
Working meetings of industrial human resource and technical managers, and other leaders led to identification and clarification of four major issues that will affect the qualifications of CPI technical workers in the future. Such data collection meetings were held in Houston, TX; Seattle, WA; and Philadelphia, PA. These locations were chosen to provide both geographical and industrial diversity. Each meeting consisted of 25-60 representatives, primarily from industry, who focused on the following four major issues:
Issue 1 - The interface between the chemist/chemical engineer/and the CLT/PTO
Issue 2 - Industry trends
Issue 3 - Technology trends
Issue 4 - Environmental/health/safety regulations
The impact of these issues on CLTs and PTOs is presented in the report and the data have been incorporated into "Foundations for Excellence in the Chemical Process Industries", particularly in the Employability Skill Standards section.
Phase I concentrated strongly on employer input. Distribution of the report produced at the end of Phase I is intended to solicit further comment and refinement, and the modified results will be released at the conclusion of the Project in May 1996.
Phase II, starting in December 1994, will focus on using the skill standards to drive educational responses, which will ultimately provide employers with more effective entry-level employees. Phase II will address issues such as using the performance skill standards as the foundation for developing learning objectives for both secondary and post-secondary institutions; incorporating educational technology into learning programs; developing models for the development of industry/academic alliances; and identifying criteria for faculty involved in such programs. No attempt will be made to develop a single methodology for educators, but rather will present the requirements with options for implementation by the public and private sector.
In May 1996, a revised set of Voluntary Industry Skill Standards, along with models for implementation, will be published.