Vocational qualifications

Published 08 April 2014

Dr Clark is caught up in the ‘spring clean’ of his office but finds that in having to throw away some long-unused resources he is reminded of some past involvements that have merit for today’s cement industry.

Vocational training is a great way for trainee cement plant professionals to learn their trade

In every organisation there is a periodic need for a tidy-up and clear-out of issues and resources that are no longer relevant to the business. It is perhaps not surprising that such a spring clean has been underway in the moderator’s office. The snowdrops are well and truly out and the daffodils are on their way after an unusually mild, if wet, UK winter in 2013-14. As part of this spring clean the moderator was asked to review a couple of crates of documents that were destined for the shredder. Were any of these documents (which had not been looked at for more than five years) worth keeping?

The short answer to such a question must be ‘no’. Anything that is useful would have been used in such a long period. Everything that is useful is usually available in an electronic archive. Nevertheless, looking through those crates at least reminded the owner of some long-forgotten projects and interests.

Among the documents was one entitled ‘Advanced certificate in cement manufacturing operations’ from the Australian Committee for Training Curriculum (ACTRAC). This was and is a highly-commendable topic. Too often when conducting technical reviews and audits we focus on the technical issues and shortcomings of the cement manufacturing process. Such technical issues and shortcomings can usually be addressed by technical fixes. Much more difficult are the more qualitative considerations such as the equipment being operated and the process controlled properly. Too often the people charged with operating or controlling the equipment and the process are not provided with the training and tools to carry out their jobs properly.

This is an area where training, and in particular such vocational training, is of vital importance. Looking further into the ACTRAC document the moderator was surprised to see that this dated back to 1994 and recalled that Neil Taylor was heavily involved in such vocational training for the Australian cement industry. The Australians were ahead of their time in making such training and qualifications available. It is a template that countries in the developing world would do well to follow, particularly in areas where cement capacity is growing quickly and there is a desperate shortage of appropriately-qualified people to operate and control those new factories.

What was the content of the document? Well, the first 23 pages were the normal introduction and principles setting out the aims and rationale for the course, the identified industry and market need, and the course standards. Those standards being that the training should be at a level that corresponded with similar vocational qualifications being awarded in other Australian manufacturing industries. Some of the guiding principles seem particular important.

Training principles

Competency-based training

The document also stated that the training should be ‘competency-based’, and include those things that needed to be understood and demonstrated for a trainee to be designated to be competent to perform a particular job or task. That would involve off-the-job and on-the-job training. Examples from cement manufacturing abound. Someone could not be deemed competent to clean a preheater while the kiln was running without some off-the-job training to understand the temperatures, hazards, techniques and equipment involved. Equally they could not be deemed to be competent unless they had actually performed the job on a number of occasions to encounter the different conditions and situations that can arise.

Customised approach

Training should also provide for multiple entry and exit points. What pre-qualifications are required to begin the training, and what recognition is given for previous training and experience? Vocational training and qualifications must be applicable for people who have many years of experience as well as for new recruits. Indeed, people with many years of experience will be vital for tailoring the training to the particular cement factory. Such experience must not be undervalued by the introduction of a qualifications-based system.

Flexible learning

Flexible learning will be important for anyone holding down a permanent job in the cement industry, particularly those who are working shifts operating and controlling the cement manufacturing equipment. This, of course, is one of the strengths of the online training offered through the CemNet Training website and led by the moderator. The course can be followed online whenever the trainees can fit it into their busy schedules. No doubt such online training should be complemented by live training sessions and application of the learning on and in the trainee’s job. CemNet Training and the moderator provide such live training sessions. For instance a three-day live training session will follow the Cemtech Asia conference in Kuala Lumpur on 15-18 June 2014.

Customisation of courses to the particular needs of particular cement companies and factories is also important, but this must be carried out while maintaining the integrity of the course. This means that the customisation must continue to provide the level of training that commands the vocational qualification being awarded.

Continuous evaluation

The final principles were that there must be appropriate methods of assessing the competence of the trainees and provision for ongoing monitoring and evaluation. That would apply to any performance improvement effort, including the efforts to improve the competence of the people operating and controlling a cement factory. Training should never be a one-off exercise but should be part of any ongoing development programme for the workforce, whose competence should be subject to continual monitoring and evaluation.

Content & modules

Enough on the principles of the training. What about the content of a training course to achieve an ‘Advanced certificate in cement manufacturing operations?’ The course curriculum was expected to be completed in 400 hours of study which is a major commitment for a cement company and the employees of that cement company. Fifty eight-hour training days amount to over seven weeks of working time. The expectation was that this training might be spread over a one-year period with dedicated training sessions as well as course and exercise work combined with on-the-job training between those dedicated sessions.
The actual training modules are detailed below.

Advanced workplace communications

Interpersonal communications, verbal and written reporting are skills that would be required in all manufacturing industries and organisations. However, it can be readily seen that there are some specifics involved in the reporting of cement factory operations that could certainly be included, such as what are the targets for a cement factory, why are they important and how can their attainment be monitored and reported.

Kiln systems, kiln chemistry, kiln operations and kiln systems malfunctions

In total these modules were expected to consume 140h (35 per cent) of the total course duration. This seems appropriate. The moderator considers that the kiln sections of the CemNet cement manufacturing technology course combined with the cement kiln pyroprocessing and kiln chemistry courses would cover the envisaged content and more.

Systems optimisation, process control, optimised process operations and problem solving

These modules were expected to take up 120h (30 per cent) of the total course duration. Again the moderator considers that some of these aspects are covered by the above CemNet courses along with the grinding and milling course, and the cement factory maintenance course. However, those aspects of the CemNet courses would not consume such an amount of time. Exercises are a big part of the CemNet courses, and more exercises would certainly be possible and maybe beneficial. Perhaps more case studies on problems and their solutions would also be useful.

Environmental control

No doubt this is a big issue for the cement industry throughout the world. The third module of the CemNet kiln chemistry control covers emissions from cement kilns and their mitigation. The cement manufacturing technology course covers the equipment for controlling dust emissions from the cement manufacturing process. However, this is certainly an area where the CemNet courses could be extended.

Power distribution

In the ‘Operating a cement factory’ CemNet course this topic is covered in sufficient detail for a cement factory operations course, in the moderator’s opinion. This course also covers the other utilities of water and compressed air. Certainly, there are specialist electrical technology courses that could be developed, but these will always be equipment specific to some extent.

Statistical process control (SPC)

This topic is covered in the second module of the CemNet cement factory quality control course. SPC can and should be applied much more widely than simply to quality control.

Training development

So that was the content of the ACTRAC “Advanced certificate in cement manufacturing operations” course. The moderator certainly thinks that it was a very worthwhile course and that Australia was ahead of the world in developing such vocational training programmes and qualifications.

He is also heartened that the CemNet Training courses cover much of the content, and more. Indeed, the ACTRAC course seems light on raw materials, raw and cement grinding technology where there is more content in the CemNet courses. The moderator has also been given some thoughts as to how the CemNet courses could be extended and strengthened. 

The full range of CemNet e-Learning courses can be found online at:  http://Training.CemNet.com

Article first published in International Cement Review, April 2014.