Associated Energy Services (AES), the country’s most experienced operations and maintenance (O & M) service provider in the steam and boiler sector, serves industries that are critical to South Africa’s economic growth. For this reason, the operational efficiency and safety of plants under its care is closely aligned with the company’s most important asset: the AES people.

“We invest heavily in training and promoting talented team members on an equal opportunity basis. We take care of our people and, in so doing, our clients,” explains AES Commercial Director, Dennis Williams.

He unpacks this: “Essentially, our people are on our clients’ sites, representing us 24/7. As such, they directly impact clients’ success, ensuring risk reduction, asset preservation, safety management, energy efficiency and improvement of steam supply uptime. To this end, we have key metrics and measurable outcomes in our service level agreements – and were the first in the industry to offer our well-known AES performance guarantee.”

As AES staff members operate sophisticated mechanical and electrical machinery, they not only need to be well trained, but also empowered to do their jobs both effectively and safely: “The generation and supply of steam requires specialist skills because the team is working with items of equipment – such as boilers – that are under pressure and therefore potentially dangerous. The inherent risks and operational protocols need to be well understood,” Williams adds.

Consistently building relationships

Williams says that the AES success story hinges on consistently building relationships with staff, motivating them and demonstrating in tangible ways that the business is committed to their development.

“Identifying opportunities for mentoring and growth goes far beyond simply conveying knowledge and basic skills and encompasses creating a career path. It also includes self-actualisation. Those at the cleaner, operator or assistant level are employed on the understanding that, if they show the required interest and capability, they will grow with the business,” he says.

AES Operations Director Cuan Watkins concurs, asserting that there is no better of learning than ‘on the job’: “A fitter or a millwright may have a tertiary education and the necessary qualifications to be appointed, but he or she still needs to assimilate the things that cannot be taught outside the organisation.”

When it comes to operators, all are trained within AES by skilled training officers and supervisors. This begins with internally developed theoretical and practical modules, followed by on-the-job training.

Experience and knowledge a key differentiator

South Africa is in dire need ofspecialist skills and both creating and retaining skills gives AES considerable competitive advantage.

Williams says that, although input from external services providers is needed for accreditation purposes in some instances, one of the company’s greatest assets remains the experience and knowledge at the heart of its business. This has been documented and transformed into modules and training courses. However, this is a ‘moving target’ due to technological changes and developments in-house – including operating system improvements and compliance changes.

“Our training resources have been constantly improved and adjusted by various changes in the marketplace – as well as bolstered by our ISO 9001, 14001 and 45001 requirements. A management system adds specific elements to your policies and procedures – and training is a big part of that,” he emphasises. 

Training the trainers

Watkins notes that AES wants to be seen as a preferred employer based on the premise that people want to stay with the company. Training officers and supervisors are appointed from within the ranks of boiler operators. Williams says natural leaders are quickly identified by their conduct and operational skills. One such example is Gratitude Masilo, Human Resources Manager for Gauteng, who has had a career journey which reflects the extent to which a capable and talented employee can evolve within AES:

He began working for the company in early 2009 when it took over a site on which he was working. Just a few months later, Masilo was promoted to the position of Regional Staff Supervisor in KZN. This exposed him to a far wider array of boiler and energy technologies, ultimately resulting in his appointment as National Training Manager.

Just three years later, he was again promoted, this time to Human Resources Manager and, shortly afterwards, Operations Manager. However, because his extensive technical knowledge combined effectively with an affinity for working with people, he has since returned to his position as Human Resources Manager.

His role extends from selection and induction of new staff to staff co-ordination, management and more. “AES specialises in identifying talent. These are the people with whom I spend the most time. I nurture them, ensuring they learn the AES way and culture. An advantage is having good relationships with everyone in our team. We encourage the mutual identification and solving of problems, and find that our team members also complement each other. That is what helps to successfully address challenges, and makes AES the strong, people-orientated company which it is,” he concludes.

AES Commercial Director, Dennis Williams.

AES Operations Director, Cuan Watkins

Gratitude Masilo, Human Resources Manager for Gauteng,

By Admin