on October 21st, 2021

Kelvin Power Station in South Africa has taken to expanding its annual budget for employee group training, upskilling, and education a few years ago and the result is phenomenal.

One of the major successes is 90% employee retention. How did they do it?

One part lies in group training, where shift-workers receive training where each member of the team gains the same knowledge and skills, the other part is the fact that working in the energy field has great value in the country. 

External view of group training center at Kelvin Power Station
Kelvin Power Station

Engineers are constant learners and at Kelvin a few miles east of South Africa’s most populated city, Johannesburg, many workers don’t trudge to work. 

The power station is one of a few privately-owned energy generators in the country and the group mindset of each one, keeps their country going in tough times, especially when winter starts to claw through the homes of their countrymen.

In South Africa, energy is a valuable commodity when rolling blackouts start to take place.

“Especially in winter when there is more pressure on the grid,” explains Cornilius Makuwerere the Training and ER Manager at Kelvin.

South Africa’s energy is still reliant on coal while alternative solutions are being established to feed the national grid. This allows Kelvin employees to be able to find their place when there is a shift in energy generation in the country.

South Africa’s energy is still reliant on coal while alternative solutions are being established to feed the national grid. 

This allows Kelvin employees to be able to find their place when there is a shift in energy generation in the country.

Keeping Up With Demands

Kelvin was commissioned in 1957 and remains a valuable player in South Africa. It’s estimated that 12% of Johannesburg’s energy is thanks to Kelvin. 

Originally consisting of two stations, Kelvin A and Kelvin B, only Kelvin B is currently in operation. Kelvin B on average delivers 200MW in output. But the power station is constantly changing, most notably there are plans to convert to gas alongside coal.

Harith General Partners, a company that funds infrastructure in Africa wants to open the first gas-fired power plant in Johannesburg as early as 2023. 

According to Harith, the company wants to open two gas-fired plants at the Kelvin A site. While gas is still reliant on resources, it is something that has an interim value between current energy needs and a sustainable future. 

Harith estimates that not only will the gas-fired counterpart reduce greenhouse gas emissions the new plants could add between 450MW to 700MW of power. 

It will bring life back to Kelvin A that was shut down in 2012. Kelvin B currently has seven 60MW generators and seven PF-type boilers.

Kelvin B might seem geriatric but its age counts in its favor.

“It’s an old plant and therefore does not require too many breakdowns as that will make the plant more expensive to repair. Our approach is to minimize unnecessary mistakes due to ignorance or lack of skills by making sure our employees are well trained and therefore embark on continuous learning,” explains Cornelius.

At Kelvin operator competency expires every 2 years, and it then has to be re-assessed – which encourages learning.

Training Aids Plant Performance

Specialist training at Kelvin reaps benefits for South Africa since it allows energy generation to continue uninterrupted.

Training and SETA (Sector Education and Training Authority) Administrator at Kelvin Power Station, Yvette Manuel mentions that in the quest to provide training and education options for employees at entities like Kelvin Power Station, they first need to look for accredited training providers.

“Then we factor in employee retention, the benefits of group training, and how to identify workers to train. Training helps us to know how to be efficient,” she says.

This is all done the ensure that the power station is always run optimally, especially in the energy sector of South Africa where there are several challenges when it comes to power generation.

“Plant performance has been improving since there was more focus on training and education. In the past disturbances to run optimally like trips, are now very rare. Most trips will be just plant failure or faults due to aging, but this is common to any plant to an extent,” says Cornilius

He believes the way Kelvin performs in 2021 shows that they are doing something right, particularly on the skills side. Operators and the maintenance team work tirelessly to safeguard the station.

IDC and EIT have provided training at Kelvin for years. Since 2016 when Kelvin’s annual budget for training has been on the rise, group training has shown to be valuable among shift teams.

“It helps that they all understand the content the same way because the message will be the same,” says Cornilius.

There’s an unbreakable information chain now because each member of the team will understand the thought process of colleagues when it comes to aspects of plant maintenance and operation.

“It makes them communicate better or identify each other’s weaknesses so that they can strengthen their shift. They can use each other strengths to tackle problems. Also, it helps that they respond to plant problems as expected unlike when they attend to it individually,” he adds.

How To Motivate Employees To Attend Training and Studies

With Kelvin offering training to employees, Cornilius believes it creates a sense of belonging because there’s room for personal development – as well as them growing with Kelvin. 

“I can safely say our employee retention is over 90% on all levels annually since Kelvin embarked on developing their employees.”

Employees attend training on their off days or are given overtime remuneration when attending classes and training. 

Depending on the area of work, employees are encouraged to register at different institutions for individual training as well. Several Kelvin employees have completed courses or are pursuing some with EIT.

“Generally, employees have a positive attitude towards training because they want to prepare themselves for the future and to be able to take up any higher-level positions as they arise within the organization. We give first preference to internal employees and they are aware of it, so it helps to encourage them to get upskilled,” says Cornilius.

How To Plan Training as a Solution

After a period of appraisals, Kelvin establishes a training needs list. 

There’s a trickle-down where line managers and employees are directly met with to establish shortcomings, and then engage on what weaknesses should be given priority. Training is then a positive intervention.

“It helps when the employees have the same information and high-level of skills to work towards our daily, monthly and annual goals as that makes them pull in the same direction,” adds Cornilius.

Kelvin has quarterly generation targets, and these have only been exceeded annually due to skills and information transfers.

Thanks to the correct training employees know what they are expected to accomplish and they are skilled to perform their duties with minimum supervision.

“Sometimes it feels good to know that you are being developed as an individual to grow and get better as a person not necessarily to benefit the company, although indirectly it always benefits the company when you transfer your skills on the job,” Cornilius adds.

According to him, training is bought to the fore during winter when there is added pressure to limit mistakes because during those months’ energy is more vital for South African citizens.

“Our last training at the start of winter with EIT for instance allowed a new sense of upskilling and gave employees more approaches to address mistakes,” he says.

International Education Manager for the regions of Africa and South America and General Manager at EIT's South African office, David Gadjus shared why the kind of training Kelvin Power Station and other entities tied to the engineering sector have several options when it comes to collective group training, or individual upskilling or further education.

“EIT has many training courses available across a diverse range of engineering topics ranging from three to five-day training sessions, which can be completed online or on-site.”

These workshops have been developed to cater to client’s individual needs so that the delivery can have an immediate outcome at places like Kelvin Power Station.

”Kelvin Power Station and EIT share some philosophies, mainly around meaningful and lifelong learning - the student is very important to both of us. Power generation is also so important for us as South Africans, so if we can be a part of that in any small way through training we are grateful and love doing our part,” David adds.

Valued Team Members Can Remain Individuals

At Kelvin, there’s no limit to employee growth within the company, and there are no strict policies where department managers have the final say on who reaps the benefits of upskilling and additional training.

“Willing employees can be able to develop themselves to have a broad understanding of their job without being restricted on what to do as long as it’s in line with their job functions,” says Cornilius.

The value in that is the fact that it opens the door for those employees once they step outside of Kelvin.

 “Those who do leave normally first come around to say ‘thank you for developing me because if it was not for you I wouldn’t have been where I am right now”. 

The culture here is one of the multiple skills that help employees perform optimally while at Kelvin but be marketable outside of it as well.

David adds that it has been stellar to see the dynamic focus on training at the power station, as well as the focus on engineering education. 

“They focus on skills but also want to see students succeed in other areas as well as equip their staff to succeed in post-employment with them,” David says.

How EIT Can Help Your Organization

Except for providing offer Professional Certificates, Advanced Diplomas, Graduate Certificates, Bachelors and Masters Degrees, and our Doctor of Engineering, EIT’s flexibility through online delivery as well as specific training solutions means that staff has more to gain.

EIT's engineering group training solutions mean that your organization can enjoy tailored professional training courses where you need them, where you need them. No matter where you are situated in the world, our live online delivery system allows employees to gain relevant skills that can be immediately implemented in the workforce.

Our instructors take into account participants’ different levels of knowledge and ability to ensure their workshops are practical, interactive and provide relevant skills that can be immediately implemented in the workplace.

But David mentions employees need to buy in during training as well to ensure a gainful experience. 

At Kelvin, there seems to be a clear thread where employees understand the importance of any on-the-job training.

One employee Thabo Selelepoo explains; “It makes us understand our systems and gives us the background on what other employees in the department do.”

Another peer in the same shift group as Thabo, Gilbert Dhlula mentions the fact that training circumvents some mistakes that could happen, and as a result, they have to take it seriously.

References

Africa Outlook. Keeping Joburg Switched On. [online] Available at: https://africaoutlookmag.com/company-profiles/1205-kelvin-power [Accessed on June 21]

Harith General Partners, 2021. Johannesburg’s First Gas Fired Power Plants Planned by Harith. [online] Available at: https://www.harith.co.za/johannesburgs-first-gas-fired-power-plants-planned-by-harith/ [Accessed on June 21]

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