Getting environment in the railway line

26th November 2014

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Tim Champney

Paul Suff reports on how its infrastructure division has inspired Network Rail to equip its workforce with environment skills

Network Rail is set to roll out environment training to its entire 35,000 strong workforce, following an initiative by its infrastructure projects (NRIP) division.

NRIP is responsible for delivering £25 billion worth of investment across 15,000 projects between 2014 and 2019. With such a large scale investment programme, NRIP has set itself an objective to "advance the standard of environmental management" as part of its five-year business plan.

According to Tertius Beneke, head of sustainable development for Infrastructure Projects, the key to improving environmental management performance at Network Rail is to increase the environmental knowledge of its workforce, starting with the 4,000 workers in NRIP.

Over the past year, Beneke has led a project to develop a system to embed environmental competence in NRIP, using the IEMA skills map as the basis to identify the skills and knowledge required by staff at all levels.

"Network Rail went through a similar process of embedding 'safety in the line'. This means that everyone at Network Rail has to take personal responsibility for safety. The aim now is to get everyone to realise that they have an environmental responsibility too," explains Beneke.

"We want to get to a position where people do not have to be told to think about the environment but, like safety, consider it part of business as usual and be able to challenge and improve the way we do things. It is no longer acceptable to be a passive participant - we all have an obligation to protect the environment," he says.

NRIP has now put in place a process to identify the environmental responsibilities for each role and to be able to determine whether each employee has sufficient competence to exercise that responsibility effectively. Training will be provided to raise competence where necessary, and NRIP is now working with IEMA to design effective courses.

The map for the journey

IEMA developed its skills map in 2011 and it is designed to help members and others plot their career paths. Beneke explains how he turned the map into something that NRIP could use to identify basic skills and knowledge for staff in three broad categories: environment and sustainability professionals; health, safety and environment advisers; and the general population.

"Basically, I took the map and changed some of the wording to reflect the way we do business," says Beneke. "These words have then been put into the NRIP competency management system, and cover four levels of competence - 'understanding', 'applying', 'leading' and 'expert'." The knowledge and skills required by the general population in NRIP, for example, are aligned to the six competences in the skills map for "non-graduate/graduate entry" under these competence requirements:

  • fundamental environmental knowledge and sustainability principles;
  • environmental policy and issues;
  • environment management and assessment tools;
  • environmental legislation;
  • business management; and
  • the ability to analyse, interpret and report data and information.

So, in NRIP language, someone in a role that
requires a basic "understanding" of environmental issues is required to demonstrate competence in six areas (see panel, above). These are:

  • understand Network Rail's environmental and sustainability policy;
  • be aware of the environmental tools to perform the role;
  • be aware of environmental legislation and how it has an impact on a specific role;
  • seek advice on environmental solutions from relevant specialists and contractors;
  • propose ways to improve environmental performance; and
  • encourage others to improve their environmental performance.

By contrast, the level of competence required by someone in a role that is deemed "expert" is:

  • be able to advise and provide guidance on the environmental and sustainability policy and how to implement it;
  • own and develop environmental tools and be able to demonstrate the value the tools add to the business;
  • be expert in legislation relevant to the environment and be able to apply this to business processes;
  • be expert in providing advice to the business on the environment in clear practical terms, while balancing these with the business deliverables and objectives;
  • provide remits for value adding work streams to improve environmental performance; and
  • display role model behaviour around environmental issues and supply practical advice and guidance to improve environmental performance.

A guide to explain each competence in plain English is being developed.

Part of the day job

Managers in the various business disciplines, such as programme management, engineering, finance and procurement, have now taken the framework and applied it to each job role. "For instance, if you are a project manager, a role that requires an "applying" level of understanding, when you sit down with your manager at your performance review, you will be asked to provide examples of where you sought advice on environmental solutions," explains Beneke.

The competences have been designed in such a way that staff will demonstrate much of the prescribed level of competence by following Network Rail procedures. "About 70% of the required competence will be met by complying with operational controls. It is built into business processes," reports Beneke. He illustrates this by citing the example of someone completing an environmental appraisal and action plan for a project. "It will ask, for example, if there are any watercourses near the site, requiring them to investigate the location and seek advice from the environment team on any measures they might need to take," he explains. "As environment considerations become the norm for staff, this level of knowledge and awareness will rise."

A further 20% of the desired level of competence will come through mentoring, by environment managers for example. The remaining 10% will be met by training. While the actual training provision for each level of competence has not yet been finalised, Beneke foresees a system of modules covering each of the six required competences, which will mostly be completed online. "The content has yet to be determined, but it will have to align with Network Rail's operational controls."

Beneke outlines what he thinks the training might entail at different levels in NRIP, envisaging that staff requiring a basic level of knowledge will undertake a short introduction, perhaps lasting one or two hours, on the environment management system, how it works, how the company's actions affect the environment, and how the environment has an impact on the company, such as the effects of climate change on the rail system.

Project management assistants, who will need a higher level of understanding, are likely to need up to eight hours of learning, while project managers, classified in the "applying" category, may require about two days' training.

The aim is for about 80% of course content to be generic, with the remainder tailored to a particular role. The induction process already covers things like Network Rail's environment and sustainability policy.

Also being considered is how best to equip the "leaders" - the senior project managers and directors at NRIP - with what they need to know about the environment. For this group, it's all about behaviour and leadership, not technical knowledge, says Beneke. They need to know what's important, what words to use, and so on.

One possibility being considered is issuing a "ready reckoner" style card, highlighting important information; Network Rail has previously used a similar style of card for its safety message.

NRIP works with some of the UK's largest contractors - such as Balfour Beatty, Carillion and Skanska - and is keen to ensure they too employ people with enough environmental knowledge. "We have put in place via our company-wide Principal Contractor Licensing Standard, which sets out our requirements for our principal contractors on the level of competence and skill we expect their environment managers and specialists to have," says Beneke. "If a project is worth £20 million, for example, we expect such personnel to have a certain level of experience, IEMA membership or an equivalent, and a degree or similar."

Spreading the knowledge

Beneke has some simple advice for others wanting to raise environmental competence across their entire workforce. "Make sure the language you adopt is the language of your business," he says. "Make it very clear and succinct. In our case, we simply require staff to 'understand Network Rail's environment and sustainability policy' or to be 'aware of environmental legislation and how it impacts on a specific role'. We've made it as basic as possible."

He advocates using existing systems where possible and drawing on expertise in other departments. "Find out what HR is doing, for instance, and what systems you can 'piggyback' on." Beneke says that he is relying on the expertise of the training and development team at Network Rail, along with IEMA and its training partners, to help him develop the learning modules. "This is not in my comfort zone," he concedes. "I'm happy to provide technical content, but there are professionals in the training and development fields that know much more about this than me."

NRIP has set a target for 60% of its workforce to be compliant with its environmental competence requirements by March 2015. This goal has now been included in the personal objectives of managers and progress will be monitored through Network Rail's HR system.

Network Rail's sustainable development strategy contains 11 priorities and everyone's job touches these at some level. It is important that they can make the connection between these priorities and their role, and they need to know what they can do to raise performance.

In Beneke's opinion, the prevailing mindset in most organisations is that environment practitioners "do environment" - it is their job. Network Rail is attempting to change that attitude and make the environment a part of everyone's job. "The aim is not to make everyone working for Network Rail an environment professional - that's not necessary. It's about raising levels of knowledge and understanding."

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