Mercury Embraces IPMA Project Management Competence Certification Model
Mercury Engineering, one of Ireland’s largest engineering firms, has selected the IPMA (International Project Management Association) competence programme to accredit its staff.
The certification will be conducted by the Institute of Project management - the Irish national accreditation body for IPMA. However, Mercury isn’t just upskilling its senior project managers
(PM’s) who have come through the engineering side with degrees; it is also training PMs that have come from the trade side of the business.
The broad range of project managers receiving training at the Institute of Project Management Ireland (IPMI) ranges from people in the mechanical and electrical engineering sections to fi re protection and small works.
Experience varies between the 15 people taking the programme, from recently promoted to others who are veteran PMs with about 60 per cent coming from the trade route, with no degrees or formal education. These individuals have worked their way up from plumbers and electricians etc. to being PM’s. “That’s where a lot of our staff comes from, with others working their way up from junior engineers to PMs. This is very new to some of them, and some haven’t been on intense programmes in 10-15 years,” says Mercury Engineering Head of Training and Development, Graham Owens. “They’re all extremely excellent PMs, but the qualifications weren’t there on paper to back it up.”
The 15 live PMs are travelling from across the country to Dublin every Friday even though it is a challenge to get so many high level people together. “It’s a little bit of a challenge finding the time when a project is coming to an end,” said Conal Finn, a Fire Protection PM doing the course. “It’s beneficial to the company. Some guys there wouldn’t have this before, but they are warming to it. If you get them engaged, that’s the main thing”.
Despite the level of personal investment needed from the PMs, they are still enthusiastic about doing well. “Initially they were a little sceptical, but they are very excited about it. They are busy people and there is a commitment of time, but they appreciate the level of investment.” Owens remarks. “The quality is very high. I think it’s a great credit to them.”
With increased international competition and an internal commitment to deliver leading edge projects, the time as right for Mercury Engineering to certify its employees with the IPMI. Clients are looking for proof of quality, with this coming in the form of staff certifications, training plans and policies for professionally developing staff. “We have to compete at a level we haven’t had to in ten years,” Owens said. “It’s really about delivering to the client and we have to be able to add value to the client by value engineering the project and project managing to a much higher standard,” Owens said. “We need to bring to the table something our competitors can’t offer while ensuring schedule, quality, cost and safety. "
“It’s really about delivering to the client and we have to be able to add value to the client by value engineering the project and project managing to a much higher standard”
Graham Owens, Mercury Engineering Head of Training and Development.
Client assurance in Ireland isn’t Mercury’s only goal; due to projects here and in the UK, Poland, Russia, the Middle East, Canada and Libya, the Group has a turnover above €500 million per annum. With this internationally recognised qualification, Mercury will be able to move managers around all these countries. “We’ve done a few projects in Amsterdam and Germany, and this qualification can be used in these locations,” Owens said.
Obtaining accreditation for PMs is the second part of Mercury’s Continuous Professional Development (CPD) policy, which was instigated last year with a drive to bring its engineers up to chartered levels. The CPD aims to make the IPMA a standard for the Mercury Group project management cadre. The result is all PMs accredited into one of the four levels of the accreditation framework. This move towards upskilling existing staff is underpinned by Mercury Engineering’s core values of “care for people” and “professionalism”. It maintains low employee attrition rates, with the average tenure of service being 10-15 years. Mercury’s says it has the best quality workforce by training them up to industry best practice levels and promoting from within so that industry knowledge and experience remains. “In a nutshell, it’s something you’d think we would have done more of in the boom, but we were so busy we didn’t have time to do it,” Owens said. “Now the climate has changed, and we realise there is a lot more benefit to investing in our people.”
To make the intensive IPMI courses more accessible to its staff, Mercury incorporated its own examples and references into more than half of the course modules. “The lads understand the terminology more, and it helps them put it into context,” Owens said of the company-specific content. “We’re not learning about software PM; we’re learning about engineering PM.”
These parables, called the “Mercury Way”, break down complex language and make the material more relevant for people unfamiliar with the terminology. “Mercury specific content is more beneficial for us. We’d be familiar with different terms to the industry standard,” said Stephen O’Sullivan, a PM on the course which has developed his career via a trade route. “The information is already there, it’s about formulating our terminology into the industry standard, so it’s just about joining the dots.”
The process of putting IPMI standards in place also benefitted Mercury hugely, with some services improving as they ensured their own material was fit for purpose.
Mercury plans to roll this standard out to its workforce in the UK, Russia and Poland, with courses in the Middle East being provided by the IPMI.
The company is also attempting to instil PM concepts into its employees from the earliest possible stage. The two-day “IPMI framework” course has been integrated into its graduate development program over the last three years, with the expectation that graduates will advance to formal IPMA certification.
“Whether they are engineering or business graduates when they are out of the development programme, they can then prepare for certification,” Owens said. “It has the full support of the Managing Director and Senior Management Team with senior directors opening each session personally in many cases.”