As an industry leading training provider, as well as one of the sector’s most recognised commercial blast specialists, EPC-UK is a committed advocate of professional development, supporting its employees with their endeavours to progress, no matter what the circumstances.

The exceptional times we’ve all lived through in recent months have in some instances presented people with opportunities to grow amidst the times of adversity. Such has been the case for EPC-UK Technical Supervisor Niko Kopalainen who, with full support of the leadership team, has completed multiple leadership and management courses through The Open University’s Open Learn site.

Niko joins the ranks of many of our younger personnel who have been supported ‘from within’ as part of our development ideology and in line with our SPIRIT ethos. Other ‘young guns’ who have progressed professionally with us and continue to have our full support are Camborne School of Mines’ graduate Sam Skinner, whom has recently been promoted to Drone Manager, and Dom Bailey whom, as one of our apprentices, has progressed to become Laboratory Coordinator as well as becoming a leading safety ambassador. 

Niko’s latest successes have been accomplished whilst on furlough. He achieved his NEBOSH certificate in 2020 and in recent months has completed all the Open Learn Courses. He now has qualifications in Leadership and Followership, Operations Management, and Project Management and Diversity in Teams. Furthermore, he is currently working towards finishing his Fundamentals of Chemical Engineering bridging module and A-Level Mathematics in preparation for starting a four-year degree in Chemical Engineering at the University of Strathclyde in August this year – in conjunction with working full-time at EPC-UK. 

“I plan to have both courses under my belt by the time I start my degree,” Niko says, “and hope that having used my time on furlough to brush up my academic knowledge and add to my qualifications, I’ll be in the best possible position to manage and fulfil a study-work-life balance.

 

“Whilst being on Furlough has been very different, with its ups and downs and lack of day-to-day structure, I was glad to have time with my family and the opportunity to set myself goals for PPD (Personal Professional Development). 

 

“I feel like I’ve used my time productively and have come out on the other side with new and enhanced soft skills that are applicable to my current job role and wider aspects of my life. 

 

“However, I couldn’t have pursued my recent achievements without the support and encouragement of the EPC-UK leadership team.

 

“I’m fortunate to work for a company that has a strong training ethos. So, despite the uncertainties the past year has presented many industries – including the chemical industry – I have felt supported and encouraged by Ben Williams and the Learning & Development team. Their direction has helped to make the experience a positive one and has demonstrated the company’s commitment to, and investment in, my future.” 

Niko expands his point by saying that EPC-UK recognises and celebrates the achievements of its employees through accolades such as the “Above and Beyond Award”, which he believes motivates employees to go the extra mile.

“Niko’s PPD successes have been exceptional,” Ben Williams, our Managing Director confirms.” Not only are we proud of his qualifications, mindset and drive, but we’re delighted to support him both with his recent accomplishments, and his onward University goal.”

Niko fact file

Current role

I’m a Technical Supervisor at EPC-UK, based at the Bramble Island site in Essex. The core of my job role involves providing technical support to our fuels additives plant, including quality control and helping with troubleshooting production issues. My role has diversified over my time at EPC-UK to include chemical R&D projects and operations support at the fuels additives plant. 

Joining the team

I joined the Bramble Island technical team after graduating in July 2018 from the University of York with a Master’s degree in chemistry. I have previously had internships with EPC-UK at both the Rough Close Works and Bramble Island sites during summer holidays from university. This gave me a good overview of national EPC-UK operations and helped me to hit the ground running when I joined the company full-time. 

On professional development…

I would say that personal professional development is vital to career progression.  As your career develops and you take on more responsibilities, it is crucial to have developed the right set of skills to enable you to carry out the role. I am motivated by the fact that I am essentially investing in my own future and career by laying the foundations today. 

On his Open University Open Learn experience…

The Open Learn courses were all online and interactive, with exercises throughout to further develop your understanding of the topics. I found the feedback at the end of the exercises useful to check understanding and to ensure that you’ve met the learning objectives.

The Fundamentals of Chemical Engineering and A-Level Mathematics are studied via online tutorials, with quizzes at the end.  

I have also developed my general business knowledge from courses such as supply chain sustainability, fundamentals of financial accounting and environmental management.

On online learning… 

It’s different to the face-to-face learning we’re used to, however online learning does offer positives, for instance you have the flexibility to study at a time that suits you and your time schedule. I tend to be a morning person, so I find I get the best results when I learn in the mornings. This isn’t always possible when you attend face-to-face courses. I’m also an independent learner, so online training has worked well for me. Sometimes it requires a lot of self-discipline to teach yourself new topics, especially when you haven’t got a trainer or teacher to guide the learning. I also miss the social aspect of face-to-face courses, where you can bounce ideas off each other.

Are you excited to start your degree course this year?

I see it as a fantastic opportunity to consolidate what I have already learned while working at the fuels additives plant and to develop a deeper understanding of chemical engineering principles. A combined understanding of chemistry and chemical engineering will prove to be a valuable tool in tackling many challenges faced by the chemical industry.

What advice would you have for others regarding PPD during the pandemic?  

There are several free accredited online resources and courses that offer good foundations to many topics, e.g., Open Learn, LinkedIn, etc. These routes present a good way to demonstrate that you are willing to develop your skills and career. There is never any harm in asking your employer if you think certain training or courses would be beneficial to your role, in fact many employers would be more than pleased that their employees are using their own initiative to want to enhance their skills and knowledge.