A greater choice route to a rock-solid skill set

UK-based minerals industry consultancy MinExp and quarrying awarding organisation EMPI Awards have developed the new Occupational Competence Assessment (OCA), an alternative assessment of capability for mobile plant operators in the British extractive and mineral processing industries. Guy Woodford spoke to one highly experienced quarry manager who is among the first to have successfully completed his assessment to find out more about its value
October 1, 2020 3 mins Read
By Guy Woodford
OCA success. Pictured from left to right: Gavin Brain of EMPI Awards, Steve Johnson and Mike Phillips at Creeton Quarry
OCA success. Pictured from left to right: Gavin Brain of EMPI Awards, Steve Johnson and Mike Phillips at Creeton Quarry

Frustrated by what he perceived as a lack of thoroughness in some traditional mobile plant assessment schemes, Steve Johnson, manager of Creeton Quarry, near Grantham, Lincolnshire, decided to put himself through an OCA assessment to gauge how useful it could be in helping him to demonstrate competence and employ staff with the level of expertise needed to work at his 300,000 tonnes per year limestone block, limestone aggregate and agricultural lime quarry site.

“Firstly, I was told there were four grades I could achieve – Distinction, Credit, Pass, and Fail. I’ve got more than 30 years’ experience as a machinery operator and more than 20 years as a quarry manager, and I still only achieved a Credit score. The assessment was hard. They are on it,” says Johnson.

Steve Johnson, manager of Creeton Quarry, part of the Johnston Quarry Group
Steve Johnson, manager of Creeton Quarry, part of the Johnston Quarry Group

“I was very impressed with how it was carried out. There was a long discussion with quarry-specific questions about site operations, then an in-depth practical skills assessment, covering everything from machinery start-up and operation, and to how the quarry is blasted and dug to gain material, finishing with a plant shutdown. After that, there was a long set of questions with multiple-choice answers focused on day-to-day working, including how staff communicate with each other, with a specific focus on health, safety and environmental aspects.”

Creeton Quarry is part of the Johnston Quarry Group, which also features Oathill and Guiting quarries in the Cotswolds, Sarsdon and Flick quarries in Oxfordshire and the soon to open Ropsley Quarry, near to Creeton Quarry off the A52 near Grantham.

Steve continued: “I want to put all my staff here through the OCA and also all the staff that will be running the new Ropsley Quarry, which is a former Aggregate Industries’ site that we have owned but not worked since 2009.”

The OCA was launched this summer by EMPI Awarding Organisation and MinTrain, a wholly-owned subsidiary of MinExp consultancy, operated by vastly experienced quarry professionals Mike Phillips, former general manager at the Institute of Quarrying, and Roy Bush. Roy worked for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) at HM Inspector of Quarries from 1993 to 2017.

Steve said: “I knew Mike and Roy in their previous roles. Mike first mentioned the OCA to me as Di, my wife, who helps drive machines when needed and runs our site office, needed some mentoring.”

Di said: “The difference with Mike is he has got to know me before working out the right approach to mentoring me. I like the fact that he doesn’t look to do things generically. He has seen what I am capable of with our [Doosan/Moxy MT 40 articulated] dump truck and other quarry machinery, as well as my written knowledge. I like MinExp’s ethics and what they stand for.”

“I had got very fed up with plant operators turning up claiming they had loads and loads of qualifications, but when I stuck them on a machine, they were useless,” said Steve. “I talked to Mike and Roy about the OCA, and they were very confident in its worth. I then said ‘Okay, if you’re so confident in them, put me through it.’ I really found it to be very thorough and robust.”

Steve Johnson, manager of Creeton Quarry, part of the Johnston Quarry Group
Steve Johnson, manager of Creeton Quarry, part of the Johnston Quarry Group

Traditionally, the UK industry recognised route to demonstrating competence has been a Plant Operator Card Scheme. This card scheme has run for many years, becoming a two-tier system dependent upon the final achievement of a level 2 VQ.

Di said: “When Mike was mentoring me with the quarry operations, one of our guys was driving past on a loading shovel. Mike said, ‘I’ll just watch how he uses the bucket.’ He then said, ‘I can tell he has his ticket [Plant Operator Card].’ But when the same guy reached the time when he needed to be reassessed for his ticket, he rang up the relevant company and was told, ‘Okay, just send us your money, and it’ll be sorted’. That’s not good enough. You may need to stand up in court after, for example, a work-related incident, and be confident in saying ‘This person has been assessed as competent to do their job’.

Steve said: “It needs to be a thorough assessment and reassessment. It should be something like when you get your car driver’s licence. It shouldn’t be someone trying to get £1,000 off us as ‘easy money’. If I left the quarrying industry and someone wanted a recommendation of how to get qualified to work in it, I would happily recommend Mike, Roy and the OCA. I think the assessment is a benchmark for the UK.”

The new OCA is said to be a comprehensive and robust assessment based on the National Occupational Standards (NOS) comprising observation of skills, a multiple-choice test of knowledge, a consideration of training and experience and a discussion of other qualities.   

The OCA can be carried out at workplaces using the operators’ own equipment within their own unit so that they can clearly demonstrate the skills required for the specific task they are required to do.

The site operator retains each OCA certificate which can be used to assist in the demonstration of workforce competence. It has been developed for all quarry and non-quarry operatives for mobile and static plant in the Extractive & Mineral Processing Industries by EMPI Awards. OCA assessments are delivered through EMPI Awards’ partner, MinTrain, a wholly-owned subsidiary of MinExp.

Creeton Quarry near Grantham in Lincolnshire, England, is a 300,000 tonnes per year limestone block, limestone aggregate and agricultural lime production site
Creeton Quarry near Grantham in Lincolnshire, England, is a 300,000 tonnes per year limestone block, limestone aggregate and agricultural lime production site

Highlighting the reasons behind the launch of the OCA, MinExp co-founder Mike Phillips said: “It’s about giving operating companies, quarry managers and mobile plant operators choice. It is also about giving employers the reassurance that each employee who gains an OCA certificate has genuinely demonstrated good practice and a thorough understanding of what should be expected of them on-site.”

“Each OCA assessment is extremely thorough, lasting around a day. Renewals are carried out after three years.”

Di Johnson added: “With some assessments, there are hidden costs. There are no hidden costs with each OCA.”

EMPI Awards are wholly owned by Philip Brain Associates Limited, who have been involved in qualification design, development, delivery and certification of vocational and technical qualifications (VTQs, previously NVQs) within the UK mineral extraction and processing industries since 1998. It is the longest established commercial provider of vocational assessment and assessment consultancy in the sector and was instrumental in introducing competence-based qualifications to the industries it serves.

To find out more about the OCA, visit www.minexp.co.uk, go to ‘What We Do’ and then ‘Occupational Competency Assessment’.

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