Fort Vale Engineering is a multi-national group manufacturing valves and fittings for sectors including offshore oil and gas, road tankers, and nuclear. Nuclear is a growth sector within the business and in March 2014 Fort Vale Nuclear was established as a standalone business within the group. In July 2013 Fort Vale Nuclear joined the National Skills Academy for Nuclear Manufacturing.
While the Fort Vale Group has around 350 UK employees, Fort Vale Nuclear is still a small specialist arm with 11 FTE staff. Their motivations for getting involved with NSAN were to grow their knowledge of the sector and as a result to benefit commercially; Pete Staveley, General Manager at Fort Vale Nuclear, comments:
“Initially our motivations were networking, knowledge transfer, and understanding the industry. We wanted to make sure that the team had all the relevant SQEP qualifications and to access new contracts particularly in Nuclear New Build.”
Fort Vale Nuclear are now involved in NSAN through a number of routes, including the Employer Ownership Funded Give2Gain project, and Triple Bar training (having participated in the development of the Triple Bar for Nuclear Manufacturing). They have also been involved in the Competency strand of the National Nuclear Gateway project (NNG).
The Benefits of Membership
The most immediately tangible benefit of membership of NSAN has arisen from Fort Vale Nuclear personnel taking part in training programmes to develop their understanding of the industry, as Pete observes:
“Training we’ve undertaken has made us more effective in the jobs we’re doing; the people who have gone through it understand the technical specs better which means we can make more sensible decisions about costings, quality and designs.”
The result of this improved capability in producing tenders has been an increase in Fort Vale’s success rate at winning nuclear tenders; Pete estimates that in 2013-14 they were successful with approximately one in every two tenders they submitted, compared to a success rate the year before of between one in three and one in four. Pete observes though that this is because:
“Partly we’re writing better tenders, but also partly we’re developing better relationships with buyers as they know we will get the job done well and on time.”
Pete estimates that the training received by Fort Vale staff through their relationship with NSAN is responsible for approximately 20% of the success of a tender; he comments that:
“It goes hand in hand with the idea of ‘SQEPness’ – you get your baseline qualification understanding nuclear standards and then experience adds to it. With every tender you get more experience and you get to know the buyers better so the quality improves, but the training is still what gives you your initial baseline of competence.”
Based on the value of Fort Vale Nuclear’s orders in 2013-14, the figures above suggest that the training received through NSAN has contributed approximately £40,000 of value to Fort Vale during their first year of membership. Notwithstanding those immediate benefits, Pete’s view is that the relationship with NSAN is one which will bear fruit in the longer term:
“We’re not doing it for today, we’re doing it for tomorrow – investing in skills and networking. We’re getting in the right places and seeing the right people and over time we can develop the relationships and win new business – especially in the New Build. I would imagine it will be a given when you get into the New Build that you will have to have Triple Bar for Nuclear Manufacturing, so in a couple of years’ time when those contracts become available we’ll be in a position to bid for them.”
Without being able to observe tangible benefits yet, Pete is able to comment on burgeoning commercial relationships which could potentially add value in future which he has developed through NSAN:
“We’ve started to develop relationships with one business as we’re in the same forums and on the same groups so that’s a developing commercial relationship.”
Looking to the future, Pete hopes that the work he has done as part of the NNG project will produce benefits in terms of Fort Vale Nuclear using the NS4P
“I’d like to see us starting to use the NS4P following the work we’ve been doing; rolling that out will give us something we can use that’s tangible, and it’s one of the reasons we originally joined. Continue networking with like-minded companies with similar issues and problems. Get through to Tier 1s and SLCs what the issues are that SMEs have and where and how you need to engage with them in a more efficient way.”
Competencies and the National Nuclear Gateway (NNG)
Pete believes that the Competency strand of the NNG has generated high quality and useful products which will help Fort Vale Nuclear to identify and demonstrate the competency of their workforce.
“The next phase of the project will enable us to maintain records of competencies and skills. It’s easy to use – not static like a spreadsheet. Everyone can access it and as a business we don’t need to re-invent the wheel. The industry benchmarking aspect is useful for us going forward and we can use it to demonstrate the SQEPness of individuals in tenders.”
With this project in its early stages, Pete is not able to put a figure on the potential return on Fort Vale Nuclear’s investment in it. However, he sees that return in terms of increased efficiency and potentially further improvements to their sales process. He also sees its role within the wider offering of NSAN:
“It can make our internal systems more efficiently – it’s easier to manage so I need to spend less time recording competencies because it’s dynamic – and I can use it as part of the sales process. At the moment we don’t have such a system in place but we will need one to be competitive; there’s a quality aspect to having such a system that meets an industry standard.”
Costs of Membership
Fort Vale Nuclear’s investment in NSAN is significant. Above and beyond the Membership fee, Pete Staveley estimates that he contributes approximately 10 days per year to the various Skills Academy meetings and committees in which he participates to get the most out of membership. Additionally, Fort Vale has spent approximately £7,500 on training, including RCC-M Fundamentals, Triple Bar, and ANIA. For more detailed information on this case study, please download the Value of a Long-Term Relationship report.