Should I Hire a Contractor or Keep it In-House? | Part 8: Hiring and Training Ammonia Operators


Eli Macha presented a technical paper at the 2021 RETA National Conference titled IIAR 6: Should I Hire a Contractor or Keep it In-House? This blog series includes excerpts from his technical paper.

As with any industry, finding the right people is essential and extremely difficult. As Jim Collins said, “People are not your most important asset. The right people are.” Businesses are constantly asking themselves these questions:

  • How many ammonia operators should I hire?
  • Should I provide ammonia refrigeration training to one of my existing employees?
  • How much training do ammonia operators need?

And the answers to these questions are affected by the following:

  • How many shifts do I need to cover?
  • How many hours is our facility operating per day?
  • What turnover rate can we expect from ammonia operators?

Quantity of Operators

While there are many philosophies regarding hiring operators, only 14% of those surveyed did not have any employees whose primary responsibility was the ammonia refrigeration system. Of those few facilities, half of them indicated they had several other employees who had the ammonia refrigeration system as a secondary responsibility. 

Twenty-one percent of facilities indicated they have three or more operators whose primary responsibility is for the ammonia refrigeration system. As can be expected, two thirds of these facilities have Large or Extra-Large refrigeration systems.

The size or complexity of a system is not the only factor that determines how many operators should be hired. Subjectively speaking, a large cherry cold storage which only needs to run for about 4 weeks per year will require less operators than a beverage processing facility which operates year-round at 18 hours per day. For example, for the facilities who complete daily rounds more than once per day, their average number of operators is 2.4. Additionally, they averaged a total of 3 employees who have a secondary responsibility for the ammonia system. The data may suggest a dedicated ammonia operator is required to cover each shift.

Quality of Operators

Having considered the number of necessary operators, the quality (so-to-speak) will be considered. All that is meant by “quality,” is skill-level, training, and longevity. Of the facilities surveyed, 61% indicated at least one of their operators were RETA-trained. The question did not distinguish between CARO, CIRO, and other equivalent types of training. Of the 5 facilities which indicated they have more than 1 RETA-trained operator, 3 facilities were Medium and 2 facilities were Extra-Large. This data suggests that having more than one RETA-trained operator would be excessive for a Small system. An oft-repeated concern is that if a facility provides their operators with RETA training and certifications, the operators will leave for another company. The following reasoning is worth considering:

One manager asks: “What happens if we train our people, and they leave?” Another manager asks in response: “What happens if we don’t train our people, and they stay?”

For many facilities, the reward of training operators is greater than the risk of them leaving after they have been certified. A surprising amount of longevity is found with ammonia operators. Forty-two percent of facilities reported that operators stay with the company over ten years on average. Another 25% reported that operators stay at least 6-10 years. It is worth reviewing the remaining figures:

  • Twenty-nine percent of facilities reported operators stay 2-5 years on average.
  • Four percent of facilities reported operators stay 1-2 years on average.
  • No facilities reported operators stay less than a year on average.

Now having looked at the quantity and quality of operators, the various aspects of partnering with contractors will be discussed.

The previous blogs in this series are available in the following links:

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