Like many engineering firms, Cheshire-based valve manufacturers, Oliver Valves, Oliver Valvetek and Oliver Twinsafe, had employees who had been involved in assembly and production for years and yet had no formal qualification. Oliver Valves recognised the need to up skill their workforce and made a strategic decision to invest in the ongoing development of their staff.

“We needed to demonstrate reduced absenteeism and a sustainable training programme,” explained Sharon Inch, HR manager. “Through performance development reviews, we have been able to ask our employees ‘what do you want to do and where do you want to do it?'”

“It was important to strengthen the psychological contract whereby people could see that their skills were recognised and they were motivated to share the knowledge that they had garnered over their years of service. In reality, this is the knowledge that has kept our product amongst the best of its kind in the world,” Mrs Inch added.

An organisation’s brand worth is decided not only by the quality of their wares, but also by the quality and knowledge base of their employees. Employees at Oliver are able to broaden their skill set with qualifications such as modern apprenticeships and NVQs.

“My goal was to establish a feeling of ‘I’m getting something for me out of my job’. This programme is all about recognising and developing the skills that people have.”

“We wanted it to be understood that anybody, in any job, could achieve a qualification. It isn’t an elitist system and it isn’t based on academic ability,” said Mrs Inch. “We recruit based on attitude and then train for ability.”

By embracing classroom training as well as on-the-job learning Oliver has seen a notable change in the information exchange amongst their staff.

“We learn from our apprentices now. They are able to question our traditional models of manufacturing. Our trainees are bringing new methods to the table and becoming involved in the development process very early on.”

One success story is that of Jose Rocha who came to Oliver Valvetek from Mexico in 2006 with little formal engineering experience but a natural ability that meant he was well suited to working in the precise field of assembling subsea needle and gate valves. Jose recently achieved an NVQ level 2 in performing engineering operations.

“My NVQ has solidified the experience I have gained whilst I have been working for Valvetek,” said Jose. “It has helped me to improve my practice and there is a psychological difference. I came to the company as an unskilled assembler and now I am an engineer.”

“My workmates are becoming interested in studying towards a qualification now because they see the way that I am progressing within the company.”

The qualification is a foundation and career development within the company does not stop once a certificate has been awarded.

“There is nothing to say that these trainee engineers are going to remain on the shop floor,” said Mrs Inch. “There may be a match between somebody’s engineering knowledge and their interpersonal skills that makes them suitable for a role in sales or purchasing for example.”

The next step for Jose is a move towards team leadership but, true to the Oliver’s psychological contract, Jose is already thinking a little further down the line.

“I have a natural advantage because I speak another language. I might find myself in a field-based role where I can travel and combine my engineering knowledge with my Spanish,” said Jose. “Before I came to Oliver Valvetek I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. My experience here has really made me think about what I want out of my career.”

The benefits of ongoing development are felt as much by the employer as they are by the employee. An investment in training is not a paternal gift and any outlay has to be reflected in the bottom line.

“The biggest reward for the company is the reflection of our investment in terms of quality,” said Mrs Inch. “We have a workforce that is intelligent, highly skilled and totally engaged in all areas of our business. The values we have as a company are mirrored by the values of our staff and this programme will safeguard the future of the business for the next 30 years.”