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2020 / 2021 Edition

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Delivering Better Training and Qualifications

First published in the May 2016 issue of Quarry Management

Four months after being appointed as the new chief executive officer of MPQC, John Wilkinson talks about the training organization and its expanding role in the industry

John Wilkinson has been in the minerals processing industry since he was 17 – and he is now in his fifties. During that time he has seen what better training can achieve – reducing the number of injuries, increasing sustainability and reducing environmental impact, and improving managerial and operative skills. In short, he has seen minerals extraction become more professional as the result of a better-trained workforce.

He has been a long-term active supporter of the Mineral Products Qualifications Council (MPQC), so when he was invited by the organization’s board to become its chief executive officer at the end of last year, he did not have to think about the offer for too long. ‘I have seen the benefits of MPQC and was keen to be part of that,’ he says.

He brings to the post all those years of experience at the sharp end, most recently as a consultant with his own business, RX Associates, and before that as a director of CEMEX following a career progression through RMC, starting in quarries and moving through ready-mixed concrete and asphalt, both in the UK and abroad.

His combination of technical, quarry management, commercial and senior managerial positions could hardly provide him with a better background for representing MPQC credibly at a senior level. But Mr Wilkinson is quick to praise his predecessors, including the man he replaces at the helm, Cedric Hollinsworth. The MPQC Board and Council also play an important role in governing the strategic direction of the organization.

The growth of the organization in the past few years has been impressive and shows how important the industry considers training. In the past three years MPQC has trebled the number of people it employs to 30 and increased its industry membership by 21%. The largest single section of its members (40%) is in primary minerals extraction from quarrying and mining. The rest come mostly from construction, asphalt, concrete and haulage.

Over the years MPQC has created or reviewed 63 National Occupational Standards and it awards around 9,000 vocational qualifications each year. It currently has close on 10,000 learners registered for vocational qualifications, has run more than 1,221 contractor safety passport courses and delivered more than 300,000 CPD training hours (for a rundown of just how much MPQC has achieved and is achieving, watch the video it posted just before Christmas on You Tube – bit.ly/qm-mpqc).

That success sets a high bar for Mr Wilkinson and it is not surprising that he says of what he has seen of MPQC since taking on his new position: ‘I am very impressed.’

Mr Wilkinson oversees the whole of the Mineral Products Qualifications Council, but the organization is divided into three autonomous units, each with its own manager: 

  • MP Futures – the Standard Setting Organisation
  • MP Awards – the Awarding Organisation
  • MP Skills – a commercial Training  & Assessment Provider.

Understandably, most of the 30 people employed by MPQC work for MP Skills. The majority of the staff have joined the organization from the industry and work closely with MPQC members and clients delivering qualifications and training out in the field.

Because of the experience of the three general managers, Mr Wilkinson did not believe his role as CEO needed to be full time and so he spends two days a week at MPQC.

Part of MPQC’s success, says Anthony Elgey, general manager of MP Futures, has come from figuring out what the industry needs before it realizes it needs it. MPQC works with the industry to ensure that the infrastructure is in place as industry demand grows.

John Wilkinson puts it this way: ‘I believe the service we offer to our members and our clients (who are often the same people) is reflected in our success. My objective is to try to continue that success into the future and see it improve and grow, which I believe it will.’

But he says that growth will come from demand from the membership rather than as a commercial objective of MPQC, which is a not-for-profit enterprise run for the benefit of its 200+ member companies, who take the place of shareholders. Many of its members are SMEs who collectively with the majors employ more than 30,000 people. Both the Mineral Products Association (MPA) and the British Aggregates Association (BAA) also work closely with MPQC. 

And Mr Wilkinson would like to see the MPQC headquarters, just off junction 26 of the M1 in the heart of England, near Nottingham, becoming a hub of the industry. The organization moved into its large new building last year. It has eight meeting-cum-training rooms that can accommodate up to 115 people with plentiful car parking available. The rooms are used by the organization itself for its courses, but not all the time, and are available for hire by the rest of the industry. 

The aim of MPQC is to train and qualify people in the industry right through from operatives to senior managers. That will make the industry safer and more attractive to work in, which, in turn, will make it more efficient and profitable. But the priorities are in that order – safety first and income generation as a result, insists Mr Wilkinson.

He adds: ‘Increasing the quality and standard of the services we offer has been at the forefront of our growth despite working our way through a recession. We have an ageing workforce and we have to train and demonstrate competence of people coming into the industry to replace those leaving it. Our members and clients want more training and more qualifications.’ 

There was, of course, a lot of rationalization following the construction sector crash during the economic crisis in 2008/9. As work has picked up, so has recruitment. ‘Our members want more training and more qualifications. We’re responding to that in a positive way. We have to grow and accommodate what our members and clients are trying to do. 

‘As that has happened, the team here has completely remodelled the training delivery  and assessment methods, which has made the courses and qualifications more attractive to the sector.’

Each of the four nations of the UK has its own vocational qualifications (VQs) within the regulated framework, fitting in alongside academic qualifications such as GCSEs, with the VQs measuring performance at work. And MPQC is as regulated by government departments as any other area of education and training.

Anthony Elgey’s MP Futures works on new Standards, such as those lately introduced for dimensional stone, blasting operations and precast and pre-stressed concrete products. The four devolved nations then review the Standards and the way that industry was consulted during the process. If the Standards achieve the high calibre required they are adopted on behalf of the Crown.

Then MP Awards, headed by Rosanne Hayward, develops the qualification products. That is overseen by the various regulatory bodies for each of the devolved nations.

MPQC uses the expertise of its members and other key stakeholders to create the Standards. For example, new qualifications for marine operations and the dimensional stone industry have required the specialist knowledge of those working in these areas. 

MP Skills, headed by Helen Hewitt, delivers the services necessary to achieve the award, although it is not alone in that. This is a commercial operation in competition with other organizations. They all use the qualifications created by MP Awards and MPQC is happy to have other providers delivering the qualifications because it provides choice for the sector.

The importance of qualifications, says John Wilkinson, is that they establish a culture within a company of the importance of working correctly and safely. The qualifications are as important as the training because they reinforce the status of the training. And everyone can hold VQs, from operatives to CEOs. They are recognized nationally and MPQC offers them up to level 6 and 7, which is considered equivalent to degree level. It currently has several people working towards Safety, Health & Environment VQs at levels 4, 6 and 7.

Mr Wilkinson’s commitment to standards, qualifications and training has been strengthened by his own experiences with RMC, who were recognized as enthusiastic trainers of their staff. John discovered first hand how shocking a death at work can be when, as a young trainee manager, there were two fatalities in one year in the quarry where he worked. 

‘The good thing is the managers we’re training now will hopefully never have to experience fatalities at work. When I started out it was quite possible that people would face that.’

He concludes: ‘I’m very happy to be working with MPQC to use my experience to improve the services we offer to our membership and other stakeholders.’

New apprenticeships and the 0.5% levy

MPQC is currently working hard on the new Trailblazer apprenticeships that are accompanying the new Apprenticeship Levy being introduced next year. 

The levy comes in at a rate of 0.5% of a firm’s wages bill (presumably the PAYE bill, although that has not been specified to date), although only when that cost exceeds £3 million, so small firms are exempt. The money will be redistributed to companies that employ apprentices, although it is not yet clear how the money will be claimed or distributed.

Anthony Elgey, general manager of MPQC’s MP Futures, is currently working on frameworks for apprenticeships in Mobile Plant and Static Plant Operation, Weighbridge Operations, and Drilling and Blasting Operations. 

Nobody likes additional taxation, even if it is ring-fenced for something as important as training, and the industry is waiting to see how apprenticeships and training under the new levy will work out. 

The apprenticeships are not age specific, although a clear aim of the levy is to reduce youth unemployment. ‘It’s an opportunity for people to explore a different route to employment,’ says MPQC chief executive John Wilkinson. ‘MPQC’s position is that we have to be ready with something to deliver. I believe it could be a good thing.’

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