A Welsh nickel refinery has been awarded further Government funding to train its staff after EAL’s Business-Improvement Techniques (B-IT) qualification helped boost business performance.

The Clydach Refinery, in Swansea, received around £90,000 to provide training in 2011, and this is set to continue with a £78,000 investment in 2012 from the Welsh Assembly Government in association with the European Social Fund. The B-IT course is delivered internally in the Vale Europe owned refinery by Coleg Sir Gâr, in Pwll, with support from EAL, the specialist awarding organisation for industry qualifications.

It encourages a lean approach to business processes and has already helped support the nickel producer’s operational planning.  B-IT activities when coupled with other safety and quality systems have led to improved safety performance and customer satisfaction – with only one customer complaint in 2011. Employees have learnt new practices that have helped reduce inventory, defects, transport, waiting time and improved the working environment in the refinery. These improvements were completed using various lean tools, such as 5S, QCO, FIFO, Kan Ban and Poke-Yoke.

Phillip Hayman, quality and continuous improvement manager for Vale Europe, said: “The B-IT qualification has helped deliver benefits for our business and our ‘Continuous Improvement  Programme’, which aligns everyone to the Vale business goals by engaging people, reducing waste and improving efficiency.  

“We recognised that to achieve excellence in our refinery we needed to train up employees, particularly in new tools and techniques, as well as problem solving. We approached a number of companies and training providers before starting to work with Coleg Sir Gâr and EAL. We were able to speak with them about our actual business, providing details and information that they could integrate with the B-IT package – in effect, tailoring the programme to fit our needs.”

A number of NVQ Assessors from Coleg Sir Gâr helped develop and lead the B-IT programme for Vale.  A statement from one of the assessing team indicated that because     the Welsh plant at Clydach is the biggest refiner of nickel in Europe then the introduction of Continious Improvement Techniques would of great benefit.  From that point of view, the college was asked to assess how things could be improved, such as working more efficiently in areas including transportation of materials, ensuring that close attention was paid to safety and most importantly ensuring that there was no detrimental environmental impact.

Comments from the assessors indicated that working alongside EAL had been very effective and because of the successful programmes completed some further areas have been identified for future development.

Clydach Refinery staff spent a year working towards their qualification, using one day a week to train. Upon completion they collected a nationally recognised EAL qualification. So far the company has had a 100% success rate.

Chris Thomas, Engineering Systems Manager, was one of the first to undertake the B-IT qualification. He said: “The course was very informative and it formalised a lot of training we’ve had in the past. It gave us a good understanding of what’s happening around the company and the confidence to implement projects – benefiting operations, sales and shipping, among other areas – more successfully.”

Mark Rees, Process Assistant in Production, said: “I’ve been on the course for around nine months and I’ve been involved in quite a few projects in that time. I had some training prior to B-IT but this allowed us to see a project through from start to finish, which was a great experience, to see how it all comes together to benefit the company.”

EAL’s B-IT qualifications have been adapted to the needs of a wide range of companies, across the public and private sectors. They can be used to complement existing programmes, as standalone qualifications and are also available as an Apprenticeship across the UK.


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