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People Development In The Extractive And Mineral-Processing Sector

Carol Pillinger, newly appointed director/general manager of EMP Awarding Body Ltd, offers an outsider’s perspective

Health and safety is a massive driver for people development in the extractive and mineral-processing industries. Initial research about this sector involving key people, including top-level managers, those on the ground doing the job, and the HSE, has emphasized the importance of the Hard Target and Target Zero. Without doubt, everyone agrees that competence, both at operator and management level, is the way to reduce accidents, and NVQs are a good way of demonstrating such competence. QNJAC has reinforced this and provides an excellent forum for stakeholders to get together to drive this forward.

However, is there something to be learnt from Peter Senge of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US?

‘...Most top-down change strategies are doomed from the start. Driving change from the top is like a gardener standing over his plants and telling them to grow harder. A good gardener addresses the balancing processes, making sure there is enough water and nutrients. Likewise, leaders should focus less on change itself and more on planning for the natural reactions against it. If people do something new that is effective, they will want to do more of it...’

But how do you define effective in our scenario – presumably reducing the accident rates would be a good definition? Applying this to the workers out in the quarries: are they really getting better at what they do and are we changing people’s long-term behavior? The age profile of the industry’s workers is somewhat higher than some other sectors – once people join this sector they rarely leave; is this a related factor? Does the age old saying of ‘I’ve always done it this way and it never hurt me’ ring true here? ‘Qualifications are for kids – I’ve been doing this all my life’ – does that make it right?

There is a huge push to do these qualifications but are companies really using them to improve their businesses and their people? A qualification is usually made up of two parts – a body of knowledge and the assessment of that knowledge. Do companies just use NVQs to assess competence or do they couple them with high-quality training and learning programmes that make for better people and better businesses? Do they use NVQs to empower staff and motivate them? They are excellent tools for these purposes. NVQs are also an excellent method of raising people’s self-esteem. Sometimes a level 2 NVQ can be the first and only qualification a person has ever gained in their life – what a positive way of proving to someone that the company cares about them and their future (as well as everyone’s health and safety).

A recent research report by the Office for National Statistics on the impact of NVQs found that 50% of level 2 candidates said that the NVQ made a difference to the way they did their work. If that is true in the quarrying sector (and there is no reason to believe it is any different), then what a missed opportunity for the other 50%. The same report found that within the construction sector 30% of candidates spent between two and five days learning on a course for their NVQ, and a further 39% spent over five days learning. These figures were pretty general over all sectors. Are we allowing our people the time to learn as well as be assessed? The figures above relate to level 2, but what about levels 3, 4 and 5? What time do we give our people following the SHE NVQs to do some learning and how effective is that learning? A recent SHE candidate gave a worrying response when asked if doing the SHE had made him a better manager. Are we too busy going through the motions of doing these things because we have to rather than because we want to, and because we can see definite value added to us as individuals and to our companies?

The four levels of Kirkpatrick’s evaluation model for training essentially measure:

  • Reaction – what the student thought and felt about the training.
  • Learning – the resulting increase in knowledge or capability.
  • Behaviour – the extent of behaviour and capability improvement and implementation/application.
  • Results – the effects on the business or environment resulting from the trainee’s performance.

‘All these measures are recommended for full and meaningful evaluation of learning in organizations, although their application broadly increases in complexity, and usually cost, through the levels from level 1–4.’
Donald Kirkpatrick – Evaluation of training

Are measures actually in place to measure the effect of the SHE NVQs? If they are not we may be spending a lot of money doing what we have been told to do and not necessarily gaining any real benefits for our companies.

Part of the issue here, particularly with the SHE NVQs, is that people see them as difficult, time-taking and bureaucratic, but this need not be the case. NVQs are simply about evidence that is generated by doing everyday jobs. They are based on national occupational standards, which are developed after long consultations with employers and other stakeholders regarding: what is essential for any occupation; what is best practice; and what behaviours and knowledge people at that level need. If that is the case, then doing an NVQ is about best practice, so managers should be encouraged to learn about that best practice and then produce the evidence that they are using it in their day-to-day working lives. That is all a SHE NVQ is.

Some horrendous tales have been doing the rounds in the last few months describing people spending hours putting together their portfolios of evidence, producing mountains of paperwork etc. If nothing else, the word ‘environment’ is in the title – how many trees are actually being killed doing this NVQ? Some might argue that this is the way they have been told to do it. They are probably right but a fresh pair of eyes is sometimes helpful. Why not use this opportunity to look again at how these targets are being achieved, and why we are really doing it. Better still, think about whether we are just assessing or whether we are helping employees to learn, thereby improving ourselves and our businesses – our shareholders might be happy with the latter bit! One final point – the quarrying sector includes many small employers who may find the whole business of NVQs a very daunting prospect, but it need not be so. It is not rocket science, it can have really positive results and it will result in higher productivity and better people – can anyone say that is not worth looking at?

To summarize, NVQs measure achievement against best practice. To gain an NVQ it is usually necessary to do some learning both on and off the job to ensure that the right knowledge and skills are attained. If a company wants its workers to prove competence they should measure both the candidate and the effect that competence has on the way the job is done plus the ongoing value added to the company as a whole. Qualifications have other uses apart from just proving competence and meeting the Quarry Regulations.

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