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Going It Alone: What Freelance Assessing Is Really Like

Mick Spencer, Freelance Assessor for MP Skills

Need a new challenge and want to pass on your experience to a new generation? Become a freelance Trainer and Assessor with MP Skills.

“I’ve been in the extractives industry all my life,” says Mick Spencer, a freelance assessor and trainer working for MP Skills. “From school I went to a local quarry, making concrete blocks. Then I went to the maintenance department and I learnt how to work on diesel engines, breaking systems, road vehicles, ex-road vehicles right through to the range of diggers and excavators. In 1998 I moved out of the maintenance side and went into the VQ side and did that until five years ago when I was made redundant. So, from school, I’ve been employed in the extractives industry and I thought to myself, what am I going to do now?”

Mick’s story is not an uncommon one for older workers or at any age when forced to review their career options. Even today a little under 50,000 people per month are made redundant in the UK, with these people often being hugely experienced within their industry. Unwilling to simply retire, Mick drew upon the relationships he’d forged from a lifetime in Quarrying for his next opportunity, “When I was made redundant I was contacted by awarding bodies and told to send in my cv and I’ve not looked back since.”

Just over five years ago, Mick began working for MP Skills on a freelance basis where he specialises in mobile plant card assessment and vocational qualifications both on Processing and Mobile plant. “It’s a full-time job but I choose the days I want to work so that’s one of the pluses of being self-employed. When I was employed I was told where to go so that site is next, this guy is next and so on. In the five years I’ve been with MP Skills it’s been a busy time in the extractives industry, so I’ve always had a lot of work to do.”

The role has also ensured that Mick’s extensive industry experience and connections continue to be highly valued, “I’ve struck up some relationships with managers and companies and when they fill the form in they sometimes ask for me as the assessor because they understand that I’ve been in the industry for a long time. It really works well when you strike that relationship up with the managers, the supervisors and the workforce.”

Working for yourself has never been more popular and over 15% of the UK workforce now consider themselves self-employed. One reason for this increase in the popularity of self-employment is the growth of wages with the median income in the South-East, East Midlands, and Scotland for a self-employed person now much higher than it was in 2001 according to government figures. With these figures and the flexibility inherent to self-employed workers, it’s no wonder that the fastest growing demographic going into self-employment are the over 65s with triple the number now working for themselves than there were in 2001.

Since you choose where, when, and what you do as a self-employed worker, job satisfaction tends to be high with the chance to specialise and really focus on the parts of the role a person enjoys the most. For Mick, that’s imparting knowledge, “I really enjoy the training side because you’re giving someone another feather to their cap, another string to their bow. They’re a dumper driver and then you go and instruct them on a loading shovel or an excavator. The guy wants to learn that bit of kit you’re training them on and after the 2-3 days you’ve had with them the guy shakes your hand and says, ‘thanks for that I’ve really enjoyed that time with you’. I get a buzz out of that, I really do!”

Mick Spencer Assessing Plant Operators

After five years Mick is never short of an anecdote or an example of where he made a positive difference in the life of a student, “There’s a guy called Martin Wood who many years ago was a dumper driver and one day he was put forward to learn the shovel. He came to me and asked what I thought of it. I said to him ‘have a go, doesn’t mean you’ve got to do it if you don’t want to, you can always tell them that you want to go back to dumper driving.’ Turns out he was a wicked shovel driver and really had a feel for it. He then became the excavator driver and now he’s an under manager. I still see him now and again and he says ‘Mick, I’m glad you told me to do that because if not I probably would have stayed a dumper driver’. I really get a plus out of that, to see someone suddenly grow.”

It’s clear that Mick, like many assessors and trainers, forms an affinity with the people he instructs. It’s no surprise then that safety on site is never far from his mind, “You’ve got to say if you see something wrong. You can’t walk away from it. Even if it doesn’t really concern you and it’s just something you’ve caught in the corner of your vision.”

“We have better kit now”, he says. “We have air conditioning, park areas, pedestrian walkways and there are huge improvements over what came before so it’s not unsafe, but we still have accidents at times.”

Developing relationships are key

Ever the educator, Mick makes a point of drawing upon real-life accidents for advice he can pass on to future generations, “When I hear about accidents I try to find out what was the cause, was it machine failure? Site failure? Operator failure? I try to take what I learn into my training and assessing and build that into my conversations with people.”

As part of his role, Mick himself is assessed multiple times a year and provided with training to continually upskill, even if that requires additional qualifications. Mick also makes time to seek out opportunities to become familiar with new plant equipment to stay up to date. In certain professions, it can be hard to go that extra mile but being a trainer or assessor doesn’t appear to be one of them, as Mick concludes.

“I think what I do makes a valuable contribution to our industry, especially when I return to a site and see somebody has the qualification on a piece of kit that I’ve trained them on, I get a buzz out of it. I also get a buzz when I hear that the manager has asked me to go back and do some more, I must have done it right!”

MP Skills, the leading provider of mobile plant training and assessment in the extractives, mineral processing, and contracting/roadbuilding industries, is recruiting Full-Time & Freelance Assessors and Trainers. We’re also looking for a suitable candidate for our brand new Resource & Delivery Manager role

For more information and to talk about Assessing & Training opportunities with MP Skills email Trish.Jagger@MPSkills.co.uk.