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St. Helens company chooses PCC training
Photos and Story by James Hill
by Chris MooreIn the early 1960s, Shell Oil built a chemical plant 30 miles northwest of Portland near the Columbia County town of St. Helens. Forty years later, the plant is still going strong, providing a stable source of employment in this quiet community of 10,000. From the outside, the plant hasn’t changed much over the years. The control room still has its gauges, dials and lights. The valves, pipes and machinery still process hundreds of tons of chemicals each day. But a closer look shows a company committed to the future, and to building on its record of safe, successful operation.A year ago, the plant was acquired by Dyno Nobel, one of the world’s leading suppliers of commercial explosives and blasting services. The St. Helens plant produces anhydrous ammonia, used to make a wide range of products from fertilizer to cattle feed to plywood resin.At the time of the sale, many longtime employees took advantage of an early retirement program offered by the previous owner. Some of those who stayed moved into new roles as supervisors."These employees didn’t have much training for their new positions," says Johneta Johnson, senior human resource representative. "We needed to get them up to speed quickly."Dyno Nobel’s North American headquarters in Salt Lake City doesnt have a training department, so Johnson asked Portland Community College for help."Ten years ago we had PCC come out and do a six-week training series for us," Johnson says. "We were pleased with the results, so I decided to call and see what the college could provide."Effective leadership trainingPCC’s Customized and Workplace Training (CWT) was hired to deliver three full days of training to 12 employees, most of whom are new to supervision. The training includes: supervision, leadership and building an effective team, resolving conflict, managing change, ethics and values, empowering others and coaching.Instructor Robert Russell uses presentations, handouts, group discussions and exercises to help participants learn new skills. Each student completes a self-assessment that identifies both strengths and learning opportunities."Everything we do is customized," says Sue Stephanson, CWT business training coordinator. "We use existing materials as well as newly developed curriculum, depending on the clients needs."In addition to teaching the classes, Russell meets with senior managers after each session to brief them on the material presented that day."It’s important that we use the same terms and concepts our employees are learning," Hanford says. "Over time, these ideas will become part of our culture."Recognizing patternsBryan Trotter is environmental engineer and manager of the plants laboratory. He and his staff perform daily quality control checks and ensure that the plan is fully compliant with environmental regulations. Trotter joined Dyno Nobel just six months ago and this is his first supervisory position."I haven’t had any formal training in supervision," he says. "The classes are really bringing things together for me. Up to now, I’ve just done things instinctively, but after the training, Im able to recognize patterns and processes."I’m very impressed with the instructor’s level of knowledge. The anecdotes and exercises he presents are very useful."Jim Sargent is senior technician on one of Dyno Nobel’s four operations teams. With the company for 32 years, he has worked in every production area at the plant."Each person has a different area they are responsible for," he says. "They make regular rounds to take readings and track temperatures and flows. I oversee everything that goes on during my shift, help out if I’m needed, and answer questions."Sargent has been leading an operations team for four years. He received some supervisory training several years ago, but finds the current training is helping him put things in perspective."What I’ve learned about making decisions is helping me everywhere. Whether you are making a decision at work, at home or in the community, the process is the same.""We need supervisors who know how to help employees do the best possible job," Johnson says. "This training is a big step in that direction."