Ask the Expert Issue 163

Question:

At a recent meeting with a client a question was raised – How does my company find a corrosion engineer who has a broad background over a range of disciplines?  They reported that they have tried to recruit, but can only find people with specialist training in limited areas. To cover all our corrosion needs, we would need to hire a paint inspector, a welding inspector, a CP engineer, a metallurgist, a concrete specialist and a water treatment engineer.  Surely there must be people who have a basic knowledge of these disciplines who could carry out day to day work and be able to call in specialist experts when needed?  AN

Answer:

The question is not unusual in the current economic situation. Many companies know that they need experts for some jobs but require a more generalised approach to everyday situations.  At one time, larger companies ran training programmes for new engineers, to enable them to become familiar with the company’s products and processes, and to provide them with a broad experience of the various corrosion challenges that they would meet during their working lives.  Often this was an informal apprenticeship, with the new starter shadowing an experienced engineer and gaining knowledge and expertise over time, perhaps a couple of years. A similar situation may be like that of a junior doctor, who has the opportunity to work in many different healthcare situations before deciding on a specialism.

The result of the informal apprenticeship type process would be an engineer who understood the corrosion aspects of the operation of multiple areas of that plant and who was able to use that knowledge for the benefit of the company at other sites and with other processes.  Unfortunately, the need for greater productivity and profits, in combination with the drive towards minimal workforce numbers, has significantly reduced the opportunity for the “grow your own corrosion engineer” approach in all but the largest or most determined companies.

In parallel, there has been an increased requirement for new starters being able to show “paperwork” which demonstrates training and competence in specific areas. Whilst this has reduced the number of “corrosion cowboys” in the industry, it has also resulted in many good corrosion engineers with long term general experience, being unable to “prove” their knowledge.  People who went through the on-the-job multi-discipline corrosion training were not provided with a certificate, and after a number of years of experience when they may be looking to change company or diversify out of a career limited industry, are finding it difficult to convince potential employers (who now need certificates as proof of knowledge) to hire them. 

In turn, these companies are finding that most of the potential new employees are often qualified only in one specific discipline and therefore they may need to hire several people to cover the range of job requirements – the problem of the client at the start of this article.

One option for the company, is to hire specialist corrosion expertise when it is needed, but again this can be a challenge. How does the company know what sort of expert they need and what happens if the problem covers too many aspects for the expert? What if they need a person with a general corrosion knowledge?  Of course, there are large consultancy companies which employ several specialists and can match the enquirer with a person in the right specialism.  But again, what happens if a more lateral approach to the corrosion problem is needed? 

As one semi-retired senior corrosion engineer, with a lifetime of broad experience, said, people like us are literally dying out.  I need to recruit my replacement but how?

To meet the needs of individuals who want to increase their general corrosion knowledge or have their experience recognised in a paper format, and companies who want to take on a corrosion engineer with a certificate demonstrating a broader background knowledge, the Institute of Corrosion has developed a Fundamentals of Corrosion for Engineers (FOCE) course. This course aims to be a solution to fill both the general corrosion engineer’s certificate gap and an employers need to find a general corrosion engineer with a relevant certificate of knowledge. 

Starting with the very basics of the corrosion reactions, the course builds up over an intensive week to cover a wide range of corrosion situations and industries. The classroom based FOCE course aims to provide the attendees with a general understanding of the common corrosion factors which link apparently different industries. Whilst not a substitute for several years of hands-on training, it gives the participants an awareness of a range of corrosion challenges and solutions across common industries, thus providing a background knowledge of fields that people may wish to investigate further, and work in, as part of their career journey. 

In addition, passing the examination at the end of the course provides the successful candidate with a ‘Certificate of Achievement’ from a globally recognised Corrosion Institute. The certificate demonstrates the broader corrosion knowledge that some employers are seeking when recruiting a general corrosion engineer and provides confidence for the employer that the new engineer does have a wider understanding of corrosion situations. The experienced corrosion engineer will also gain relevant paperwork which both backs up their knowledge and fits company recruitment policies.

FOCE courses are held regularly (covid restrictions permitting) with dates and locations being listed on the ICorr website at www.icorr.org/training-qualifications-2-2. The next course is on 15 – 19th November 2021.
Jane Lomas, Amtec Consultants Ltd

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