Training focus: Continuing development

6th December 2012


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One year after becoming IEMA Associates, Tata Steel staff talk to Sarah-Jayne Russell about the longer-term impacts of completing the course

Last summer, 12 Tata Steel employees were brought together to complete a two-week training course that would provide them with important environment management skills and knowledge, and enable them to become Associate members of IEMA. The residential course, based at one of the steelmaking giant’s UK sites, was an important step in the firm’s plans to ensure that all staff with responsibility for the environment attain a specified competency level and are professionally qualified.

Since the adoption of a new corporate environment management system (EMS) in late 2010, Tata Steel has been working to develop and roll out a learning programme that will ensure a standard level of environmental knowledge across all of its quarrying, manufacturing and fabrication operations. Currently, around 100 employees have core managerial responsibility for the environment in the UK and they come from a range of backgrounds; some are environmentalists by training, while others have integrated environment management into their engineering or production roles.

This diversity in job titles and qualifications has been a key driver in a project to map out the environmental skills needed in the company. “We’ve introduced the Tata Steel Academy, which is a learning, development and capability initiative looking at the competency of our people,” explains Damon Tweedie, environment assessment manager in the group environment function. “We’re using the IEMA skills map as a starting point to look at job families, define roles in those families and then specify a competency profile for each role.”

Building confidence

Early on in the process Tata Steel identified the IEMA Associate as the qualification that would provide the comprehensive grounding in environment management needed by operational-level staff, and decided that, rather than continuing to send individuals to open courses, it would run the course internally for groups of employees.

The first course ran last year and involved employees from all over the country, including Jonty Brownlow – a speciality steels environmental engineer at the Stocksbridge steel works in Sheffield, Paul Wheeler – a principal energy engineer in the central environment function, and Alastair Dunn – the quarrying and services manager at the Shapfell limestone quarry in Cumbria. Twelve months on and each agrees that the course was well worth doing, particularly in terms of building confidence.

It had been about 10 years since Brownlow had graduated from his environment-related degree, so the course for him was a refresher after a decade in work. “The biggest benefit has been the in-depth knowledge about sustainability issues and the confidence that gives you to argue your case, or be able to explain in detail why something is an issue,” he says.

“It’s not about the minutia of why someone shouldn’t spill oil on the ground, but why global warming is an issue and how to relate it back to your company. It really helps you to argue the sustainable business case to both shopfloor workers and managers.”

Brownlow says the course also given him the tools to look at wider sustainability issues, such as water and energy use and, while the financial downturn and changes to environmental permits have resulted in other priorities taking precedence in recent months, he has been able to undertake some simple and cost-effective initiatives to cut oil use and improve water efficiency.

Dunn’s background was in the engineering of mines, but he has since taken over responsibility for the environment at the Shapfell quarry. Completing the Associate course has enabled him to take the lead on environment projects and related training at his site.

“It’s about knowing the subject and being able to use that knowledge in a practical way. I would have got there eventually, but it wouldn’t have been so quick if it hadn’t been for the course,” he says. “We’ve been working on a number of improvement conditions linked to our environmental permit, and the knowledge I gained from the course has been particularly useful in responding to the Environment Agency.”

Despite a year passing, Dunn is convinced the course is still helping him in his day-to-day job. “I might not be able to quote chapter and verse everything I was taught, but I have picked up a lot of information. To have the confidence that I know what I’m talking about and that I can answer questions really helps in presenting to people.

“I also now get all the updates from IEMA, and I’m always reading the emails, so that’s been a useful service to keep in touch with what else is happening.”

Tweedie agrees that, while the Associate course offered a good refresher for those with environment backgrounds, it probably offered most benefit to those like Dunn who had moved across from other functions. “Since the course finished I’ve seen a step change in terms of confidence and capability, particularly with those who didn’t historically work in an environment role.”

Meanwhile, for Wheeler, whose job focuses purely on helping sites improve their energy performance the course has helped to give his work context. “For me, things haven’t changed a lot since completing the course; the immediate benefits of a broader understanding of environment issues remain the biggest gains,” he comments.

“That understanding, while not immediately applicable to my day job, helps to put into perspective what my team does for our company and how that fits into the wider environmental agenda.”

Working together

Alongside the boost in confidence that is helping people like Dunn and Brownlow to more easily communicate environmental messages and to make the business case for sustainability, the course had additional benefits in bringing people together from across the business.

“Our business tends to be quite fragmented with operations scattered across the country,” says Tweedie. “But our sites tend to have similar issues, so it’s good for our environment professionals to be able to talk to each other and learn how they are dealing with specific pieces of legislation, or tackling a particular impact.

“On the course we had specialists in internal consultancy roles alongside operational environment managers and engineers resulting in broader dialogue and discussion between attendees. That was almost as important for us as the course content itself. And going forward we would rather run courses internally than send our practitioners out to open courses.”

Dunn comments: “We’ve got some world-class experts in the company on issues like the EU emissions trading scheme. And now, thanks to the course, I’m more familiar with what they do and what they can do for us. In the past it was sometimes a question of not knowing whom to turn to on a specific issue. We now know better who our experts are.”

Brownlow says the course put him in touch with his counterparts in Wales, which has proved useful for work at his site in Sheffield. “We have company-wide environment committee meetings where most of us join together, but there are a couple of contacts that can’t always come. It was very useful to make contact with them because they are a similar size to us, and some of their systems seemed way ahead of ours.

“I have got in touch with them a couple of times over the last year to get more clarification and explanation about how they do things.”

One of Tata Steel’s sites in south Wales has an integrated safety, environment and quality management system, something Brownlow hopes to introduce at his site in the future. “An integrated management system is definitely an aspiration for us. Seeing a system that is in use, using the same IT platforms, and seeing how the team is making it work is really helpful. If the skeleton’s there you can put the flesh on the bones so to speak.”

Meanwhile, for Wheeler in the company’s energy-efficiency team, the course meant he worked with one of Tata Steel’s smaller sites sooner than might have happened otherwise. “We conduct energy audits for all of the company’s sites and provide recommendations for potential efficiencies. One site was already in our long-term programme, but we’d not yet been able to work with it.

"The course put me in touch with a member of its environment team. It meant they realised that support was available in the company and allowed us to understand their specific needs; we were then able to provide them with the assistance they required.

“The site was already doing a lot of the things that it should be doing, but nonetheless we were still able to help them develop improvement plans and put the team in touch with other parts of the company where extra expertise is available.”

Looking ahead

Now that a year has passed since the first internally run Associate course was completed, Tweedie’s sights are set firmly on the future and upskilling all of Tata Steel’s environment practitioners as a part of the company’s academy initiative. “Once our competency profiles are finalised it will be a requirement for staff to attend training courses as a part of the appraisal process, and we will be making sure that the Associate course is one of the signature courses for all our operational personnel.”

One valuable lesson learned in the completion of the first Associate course, according to Tweedie, was making sure the right people are attending. “By and large we had the right delegates on the course, but on reflection there were one or two people who had been nominated to attend, who may have been better suited to undertaking IEMA’s foundation certificate in environmental management,” he says.

“You need to have a baseline of environment management knowledge to really get the most out of the Associate course. It is an intense two weeks but it is excellent in giving operational staff that bigger picture.”

Tweedie plans for the Associate course to be run internally twice each year, with the next course set to go ahead in early 2013. “We see the IEMA Associate and the foundation certificate as being a valuable part of our training plan going forward, particularly because they are linked to professional standards,” he confirms.

On an individual level, completing the Associate course has helped give Dunn the confidence to further expand his environment management skill set. “I’m about to complete some internal auditing training, which doesn’t feel like such a big step as it would have done prior the Associate course,” he says. “Before, I would have thought that my knowledge wasn’t strong enough in some areas, but now it feels like the obvious step.”

While Dunn agrees that the two-week Associate course is a challenge, he argues that it offers practitioners a great opportunity to develop their knowledge and help communicate important environment messages to their colleagues. “The course gives you a fantastic grounding in environment issues that an awful lot of people would benefit from. It’s made it easier to run training at my site and made environmental issues more visible.”

Tata Steel’s approach to environment training seems to confirm that running the right courses, for the right people, can help to develop individuals’ skill sets and improve an organisation’s performance by sharing best practice and ensuring staff have the confidence to really broadcast the environment management message.

The new associate

During 2012, IEMA revised the Associate standard and launched a new online exam. While the qualification still requires 80 hours of study and covers the same core topics additional requirements have been made.

Together with demonstrating a comprehensive understanding of environmental sustainability, legislation and the management of environmental performance, those wishing to become IEMA Associates must also be able to describe the main components of an environmental business case; explain the importance of sustainability across an organisation’s value chain; and improve sustainability through influencing behaviour and implementing change.

Candidates have to be able to collect, analyse and report on environment information and data, and describe important ecosystems services in order to successfully pass the Associate assessment.

The design of the revised standard has been driven by IEMA’s skills map, with the competence requirements now fully aligning with those outlined in the map for individuals in an operational role.

This year also saw the launch of a new online assessment for the Associate standard, enabling candidates to complete the 2.5-hour entry exam and receive their results in just six weeks. A suite of free resources including practitioner notes, useful links and a webinar offering guidance on exam preparation are available online.

More information on the course syllabus and a list of training providers are available on the IEMA website, or to discuss upgrading your membership, contact +44 (0)1522 540 069 or [email protected].


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