Launched less than a year ago, Babcock’s new resource screening centre is already proving its value in matching skilled labour resources to specific on-site job requirements in the power sector. Over the past 11 months, the centre has significantly contributed to improving efficiencies on site by testing and placing the most suitably qualified and experienced candidates in critical power projects where an effective and efficient work force is a necessity.
The first of its kind in South Africa, Babcock’s resource screening centre is located in Vanderbijlpark, in close proximity to the site office where Babcock retains a core crew proficient in managing scheduled shutdowns, as well as any unscheduled maintenance issues that may arise at a power station.
General Manager – Business Development, Services and Resources, Dipak Madhav, says the objectives of Babcock’s resource screening centre are to assess whether candidates meet the minimum requirements in performing required job-specific tasks, to ensure that competent resources are placed on site, quality of work is maintained, and that efficiency and productivity is maximised.
Within a 12-month cycle Babcock’s core power station teams are typically supplemented by between 2 500 and 3 500 temporary employees to complete the company’s scope of work within tightly scheduled timelines. Such projects are often high risk and on critical path from day one, putting the project teams under immense pressure to complete the project safely and within acceptable repair targets.
“The resource screening centre was established in 2017, when Babcock was contracted to overhaul three 600 MW boilers during a half-station shutdown. We required the services of approximately 2 000 temporary employees for the contract and had to ensure that we placed the appropriately skilled resources for the job, particularly A-class welders. By establishing the screening centre, we could improve our skills screening process and simultaneously employ people who would increase effectiveness and efficiency on site,” says Madhav.
While Babcock has always screened temporary employees, past assessments have largely focused on welders. The new centre ensures that all resources and competency skills are tested, evaluated and independently accessed, from welding, fitting and rigging skills through to quality control and supervisor abilities.
The in-depth screening process is both comprehensive and on-going, not only assessing suitable employee qualifications, but also ascertaining whether qualified candidates can practically perform the job on-site.
Madhav says all suitably qualified applicants begin with numeracy, literacy, skill capabilities and practical tests. This is followed by a Babcock-managed medical test. Applicants who pass both these stages then begin statutory training which includes instruction on working at heights and confined spaces, as well as highlighting an employee’s legal liability. Training concludes with an exam with individuals requiring 80% in order to pass.
This highly efficient screening process is completed within three to seven days, depending on skills requirements and training, after which the applicant is considered ready to work.
A second stage of screening takes place on site, where an employee’s practical performance is evaluated.
Madhav says that over the past 11 months Babcock has screened approximately 5 000 candidates. “The new screening centre helps to better match skills to the project on hand, putting the right person in the job. At the same time, it helps us to better understand the scope of work and identify possible skills gaps,” says Madhav.
Candidates that pass the evaluation process are ‘green carded’ and placed within a growing pool of qualified, trained and evaluated workers who can be drawn on for Babcock projects requiring additional skilled labour. This pool of skilled resources includes welders, riggers, pipe fitters, mechanical fitters, supervisors, safety officers and quality control personnel.
The ‘green card’ endorsement from Babcock is only valid for one year after which time candidates are required to redo the screening process. Screening tests will also be modified and updated annually in order to maintain quality standards, with adjustments made according to any skills gaps identified during the on-site evaluation process. Madhav says in this way the screening process will continually improve based on past experience.
Babcock’s screening centre has the capacity to assess up to 100 candidates a day. The assessors are all experienced specialists in their field, while the screening criteria conforms to local as well as global standards.