After graduating from the College of the North Atlantic’s Industrial Mechanic (Millwright) program, Frederick Hull applied to work at Vale’s new Long Harbour Processing Plant as a Processing Plant Technician.
What he didn’t necessarily know, however, was that his job would be unique to the Long Harbour plant and part of an innovative new organizational design being implemented there.
When the plant goes into operation later this year, Frederick will be part of the company’s High Performance Work System (HPWS), which is designed to place decision-making abilities with the employees who have the appropriate ground level experience and knowledge – Processing Plant Technicians like him.
“The High Performance Work System is more or less a different way of thinking of how to operate a plant.” —Josh Perry, Junior Mechanical Maintenance Engineer
“The High Performance Work System is more or less a different way of thinking of how to operate a plant,” says Josh Perry, a Junior Mechanical Maintenance Engineer at Vale and a recent Memorial University of Newfoundland Mechanical Engineering graduate.
Currently, he is helping develop training programs for Processing Plant Technicians like Frederick.
“The High Performance Work System, or HPWS as we refer to it within Long Harbour operations, is geared towards better empowering and engaging our front-line employees, our Processing Plant Technicians,” explains Rob Newal, Supervisor of Recruitment and Selection at Vale.
“It’s made to essentially give everybody the ability to make decisions at the front line. They’re the ones who run the plant on a day-to-day basis, so they’re the ones who are best equipped to make the kinds of decisions we need to operate and produce nickel.”
One of the most interesting aspects of HPWS and the Processing Plant Technician role is that, through their training, the technicians are each trained to be both operators and maintenance personnel regardless of their background, therefore reducing the need to bring in outside help to repair or maintain equipment.
“It’s really progressive and that works for people who are just getting started in a career.” —Frederick Hull, Processing Plant Technician
“This is both cost-saving, time-saving and a great opportunity for individuals to get into those kind of positions,” Josh says.
Frederick explains that the employees just flow to the work as it comes because everyone is trained in every aspect of the job.
“It’s really progressive and that works for people who are just getting started in a career,” he adds.
Starting a skilled trades career in Vale’s High Performance Work System
For Frederick, one of the things that really appealed to him about this opportunity is that Vale allows you to get a job and then get trained, unlike some other employers that require you to have that initial training and experience before you are hired.
“It’s not that catch-22,” he says. “For an apprentice, you can’t get work unless you have experience and you can’t get experience unless you get work. It’s not like that here. You get the work, you get the training and then you get the experience.”
Rob says that Processing Plant Technicians start off in an initial six to 10 week training program, and then you’re each allocated to a specific team and department. “You go through different rotations so that, when you’re fully trained, a year or two years after starting as a Processing Plant Technician, you can work in any area of the plant,” he explains.
“You’re constantly learning, you’re constantly being developed and you’re constantly progressing through the different levels within our progression scale for that position.”
Getting hired by Vale as a Processing Plant Technician
Processing Plant Technicians don’t just come from one type of academic background. According to Rob, many of the people Vale has hired for this role so far come from a wide variety of college skilled trades programs, such as Power Engineer, Industrial Mechanic (Millwright), Electrician and Welder.
Vale is hiring Processing Plant Technicians primarily based on attitudes and aptitudes, he adds. “We’re definitely looking for soft skills: teamwork, communication, interpersonal abilities, the ability to take on leadership, and the ability to function as part of a co-operative work environment to work twards a collective goal.”
“We’re definitely looking for soft skills: teamwork, communication, interpersonal abilities…”
—Rob Newal, Supervisor, Recruitment and Selection
In Frederick’s experience, candidates weren’t eliminated according to their abilities. “You’re taken in for your ability to learn,” he says.
And the hiring process somewhat mirrors the work experience, too. “The most interesting part of it all was this group assessment where they got everyone together from that particular hiring wave, put us all in rooms and basically challenged us in half a dozen different ways. They wanted us to solve the problems together, show teamwork. It was different, in a good way.”