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An Unfortunate Set of Circumstances

Within a month of taking on this responsibility, I went away on a planned vacation for two weeks. During this period, at the end of a particularly bad shift, the refinery manager happened to visit the barrel factory. He was not at all pleased at what he saw; a factory overflowing with leakers. As a result of this incident, the supervisor was formally warned about his performance. While prevailing social legislation made it difficult to fire blue collar workers, supervisory staff had less protection. Even so, he could not ordinarily have been fired. Instead, taking advantage of his timid nature, the company applied pressure on him to resign his position. I came back from vacation to find him serving out his notice period.

The Challenge

I objected strongly to this treatment from the company and requested he be allowed to stay on, provided I could train him to do useful work. I offered to mentor and rehabilitate him in three months. If this failed, I agreed to withdraw my objection. This request was granted, so I had to justify my brash action by proving my claim.

I had a plan in mind. We had a serious backlog of work on atmospheric storage tank maintenance. They were on a 15-year cycle of cleaning and repair, and many were overdue. Contractors did the actual physical work, but our supervisor managed the program. Work in enclosed spaces like tanks can be quite hazardous, so the quality of supervision matters. Each tank could be out

Retraining Surplus Staff 131

of service for several months at a time. Scheduling their outage was a tricky affair, as we had to ensure that crude and product handling capacity shortages did not create loss of production. Currently we had one supervisor dedicated to this work. My plan was to train a second supervisor to handle the backlog, and I had a candidate.

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