Investing in knowledge drives Dalton Electrical’s growth

ElectroLink Article May – June 2016 

Fifty years ago with a big mortgage and a family on the way, electrician Dave Dalton took the plunge and set up his own electrical contracting company, D G Dalton & Co.

The Auckland based company prospered and today employs 50 plus people specialising in industrial electrical and engineering work including turn-key automation projects, machinery breakdown repairs and planned maintenance.

the investment in building skills and the sharing of knowledge by dalton electrical has produced five master electricians industrial apprentice-of-the-year challenge winners in the last seven years
The investment in building skills and the sharing of knowledge by Dalton Electrical has produced five Master Electricians industrial apprentice-of-the-year Challenge winners in the last seven years

While Dave Dalton provided the inspiration to build the company into a successful electrical contracting business, it was his son Bruce and the team he has built around him who have taken it to the next level.

Often using skills and smart management tools you won’t find clipped on a tool belt, Dalton Electrical (as the company is known today) has achieved not just technical success but also a high level of managerial performance.  What sets the company apart from others is not just its focus on project excellence, but it’s equally strong focus on building excellent tradesmen and supporting every member of the company in the ongoing development of their skills.

Recognition of this ethic and the team culture that delivers it can be seen over recent years in the procession of Dalton trained ETCO apprentices who have won the highest honors in the Master Electrician’s apprentice-of-the-year Challenge.

Similarly on the project front, Dalton Electrical’s automation expertise has been well recognised by winning Master Electricians Excellence awards in the automation project category on two occasions, and being national finalists on three.

Management award

But perhaps the most significant recognition of Dalton excellence has come this year with company’s achievement of gold status in its recent accreditation by ‘Investors in People’.

Only three New Zealand companies have ever attained gold accreditation with Investors in People, having met the international quality standard’s highest level for managerial development and excellence.  The standard defines what it takes to lead, support and manage people well for sustainable results.

Created at the behest of the British government, Investors in People has taken its standard to 75 countries worldwide with 14,000 organisations currently holding the three-year accreditation as a result of having gone through the comprehensive assessment and development process, with the best achieving either bronze, silver or gold accreditation.

New Zealand managing director, Stuart Burgess, says Dalton’s achievement is a remarkable one because outside the UK fewer than 50 businesses in the world have attained gold status.

He attributes much of this success to the culture of learning and improvement that drives the company.

“Bruce Dalton believes he can genuinely do better with people and targets learning development and the skills needed to help the people he brings into the company become high performing employees.

The passing on of knowledge is astounding and that carries through into a highly effective company.  When we first assessed the business, Dalton Electrical was already operating at a higher baseline level than we typically encounter.

What we look for is the link between the strategy of the business and the people in it so we can assess how well they participate in what the organisation is trying to achieve.  We also want to see a flat management structure that creates a high level of business agility by allowing people to work autonomously, knowing the company structure is there to support them.”

While Dalton Electrical entered the Investors in People assessment process with the confirmation they were doing things right but hadn’t really realised it, Bruce Dalton says he was looking for more.

“The company had doubled in size with a lot more staff working for long periods on customer sites.  We wanted to make sure everyone remained connected and engaged with their team leaders and were continuously benefiting from their coaching support”.

rowan cann (left) and daniel berry helped dalton electrical win a master electricians excellence award for the yashili powder line automation project
Rowan Cann (left) and Daniel Berry helped Dalton Electrical win a Master electricians Excellence Award for the Yashili Powder Line automation project

To help achieve this he committed the company to a structured six-month development program run by the High Performance Centre associated with Investors in People.  This involved having a mentor of their own and developing planning, implementation and reviewing processes that would carry the company forward, realise the potential of their people, raise standards and deliver a higher consistent quality of service to clients.

Staff members were then interviewed in depth and the company was tested against a set of measures of best working practice.  Dalton Electrical met 165 of the set evidence requirements which boosted it to gold status at the first formal assessment – a feat rarely achieved.

Share the knowledge

Dalton attributes the learning culture of his company to his father who always shared his knowledge rather than withhold it.  The success of this can be seen today in the number of ETCO apprentices trained by Dalton Electrical and the high levels of success shown in apprentice competitions in New Zealand and overseas with World Skills.

But more significant is what those winning apprentices do with their careers.  Dalton electrical has three divisions: Projects, Service and Maintenance and five people in its management team with five supervising 2IC’s.

Dalton says all five supervising electricians completed their training as Dalton apprentices and three of them were Challenge industrial winners.

“Every apprentice is important to us and we pride ourselves in taking them through to completion.  The product we offer clients is the quality of the tradesmen we produce and we are committed to making them the best they can be.

We invest a lot in industry specific training and teach 11 units in-house complete with test rigs and internal examinations.  We also encourage broader development such as through courses like Outward Bound.  Tradesmen joining the company also grow their skills through this ongoing technical training.  This way everyone gets a clear vision of the company’s goals and their path in it”.

As a result he says the company gains a high level of loyalty with apprentices staying with the company and none having left to work for another electrical contractor.

“When it comes to building a career and enjoying challenging and interesting industrial work in a highly supportive team, Dalton Electrical is definitely the place to be”.

Customer benefits

The caliber of Dalton’s staff does not go unnoticed by customers.

Michael Graves, the manufacturing manager of bubble wrap and adhesive tape manufacturer, Sealed Air, began using Dalton Electrical over 30 years ago.  Graves says at one point Sealed Air had electricians employed by the company but still suffered from electrical problems requiring late night call-outs.

He replaced them with Dalton Electrical and on the first day on the job there were four major breakdowns for the electrician to deal with.

the dalton electrical management team from left: rhys burton (maintenance), tony fletcher (service), fiona schimanski (admin), carl edmondson (projects) and bruce dalton
The Dalton Electrical management team from left: Rhys Burton (Maintenance), Tony Fletcher (Service), Fiona Schimanski (Admin), Carl Edmondson (Projects) and Bruce Dalton

“Despite having no knowledge of our plant he fixed the problems that day and, with the preventative maintenance regime we now have in place, call-outs hardly occur”.

Graves says Dalton Electrical has taken care of everything for them from office upgrades through to PLC programming, plant automation, panel construction and full SCADA implementation.

“If they do need additional input for a particular specialist requirement such as a hazardous area classification, they take care of it so we don’t have to.  They are immensely professional and are constantly updating their technical knowledge and regulatory compliance.

Bruce has developed into an astute leader.  He recruits well and develops staff well.  As a result Dalton Electrical has saved us a lot of money through fewer disruptions, better system design, greater overall equipment efficiency and less waste”.

Deb Hannon, the operations manager for Rapid Labels, has also benefited from Dalton’s ability to effectively solve electrical and industrial electronic problems.

Rapid Labels experienced a breakdown to a vital piece of machinery after a software upgrade.  She says their outsourced specialised technician was at a loss to solve the problem, so after two days of being down, Rapid called Dalton Electrical on a Saturday morning.  The Dalton electrician isolated the issue to a faulty sensor and managed to locally source a comparable one and had Rapid up and running within a couple of hours.

Deb Hannon says having Dalton Electrical look after their presses and plant is very reassuring.

“They are awesome.  As a team they have a huge depth of knowledge which gives us great confidence in the fact that Dalton can resolve any issue that arises.  Also the entire team at Dalton fit into the Rapid culture, which is hugely important to us”.

Depth of Support

Dalton’s service manager Tony Fletcher says a particular strength of the company is the support they can provide to manufacturers not just in 24 / 7 service but in the engineering, design, systems integration, installation and commissioning of new plant or complete industrial sites.   This technical capability and man-power strength  has been recognised in the Ecanz Excellence Awards for automation projects.

He says Dalton electrical is often called upon by other electrical contractors and is happy to help them complete their projects with whatever expertise is needed.

“With 50 years’ experience and 50 skilled staff, assembling a team with the right know-how and approach allows us to take on any industrial work and be commercially effective straight away”.

That’s what superyacht builders McMullen & Wing found when they had more work on than their own electricians and technicians could handle.

Carl Edmondson, Dalton’s projects manager, says he provided them a team for three weeks but McMullen & Wing wouldn’t let them go for three months because “our boys stepped up and made a real contribution”.

McMullen & Wing project manager Richard Low says they showed a higher level of capability than they expected from a contracting company and were able to handle the significant complexity and differences in marine electrical and control systems.

“We gave them the drawings and they proved to be very capable, even when they had to deal with the unique demands of hydraulic controls, fire-fighting systems, engines, generators and power management – all well beyond the demands of normal wiring work.  They were a good bunch of guys and they fitted in very well”.

Bruce Dalton says his team is primed to support New Zealand industry for another 50 years and approaches every new job with a level of performance designed to retain a customer for life.

“With Dalton Electrical your electrical, automation, planned maintenance and electronic systems are in safe hands so you can focus forward on growing your business.