We have more than 3,500 employees working in four core divisions across the Group. Our teams work increasingly closely together at a local, divisional and Group level to share knowledge, skills and technical know-how. We are building a culture where employees are encouraged to share best practices and use the ideas of others wherever this can accelerate business improvement.
Our team at Shanks is a unique mix of industry experts and talent from other sectors. This combination makes us stronger as we have fresh perspectives to supplement the deep knowledge of our long-serving and dedicated teams. We pride ourselves on providing a safe and inspiring workplace, along with the tools and training required.
Implementing change initiatives
In order to drive margin expansion, we have supported the implementation of a number of initiatives across the Group. One of the most successful of these is the continuous improvement (CI) programme.
The CI programme has been implemented at various sites across the Group and has involved comprehensive training for the people involved. CI is gaining traction, with impressive results. The programme not only reduces downtime and increases throughput, but also helps to empower our teams, improve health and safety, and increase two-way communication. It has generated significant savings, by showing how we can work smarter and get more out of our facilities.
Supporting the commissioning of new assets
Over the course of the year, we have brought two flagship facilities on-line in the UK through contracts with Barnsley, Doncaster and Rotherham (BDR) and Wakefield Councils. We are also accelerating recruitment at our new waste treatment facility in Derby, which is due to come on-line in April 2017. The recruitment of new talent to operate and manage these facilities has been a crucial element of the overall plan for these multi-million pound contracts.
For new contracts, we always strive to recruit people from the local area. We held very successful open days near our new sites for the recruitment of a variety of roles at the facilities. Altogether we had over 1,600 interested applicants for a wide variety of roles and have hired some high calibre talent into the business. Once the new teams were recruited, they undertook a number of job-specific training programmes to develop their skills.
Supporting portfolio management
We have a clear strategy to actively manage our portfolio, in order to improve the quality of our earnings and increase the return on capital employed. It takes significant effort to manage our people carefully and appropriately through such strategic moves. We ensure that we fully consult with all those affected by these transactions, both in an HR capacity and, more broadly, through comprehensive communications using a range of channels.
For example, during the year we disposed of our Industrial Cleaning Wallonia business in Belgium and a small business in France. The sale of the Industrial Cleaning Wallonia business was preceded by regional restructuring. Extensive and sensitive consultation was required, not only with those directly working in the business for sale, but also with those employees indirectly involved who remained at Shanks. The sale was completed with no industrial disruption, reflecting the appropriateness, sensitivity and effectiveness of our actions.
We also made a small tuck-in acquisition of PRA, a paper recycling company in the Netherlands. The business was fully integrated soon after the deal was completed.
We benefit enormously from our diverse workforce. Our people come with different backgrounds and from a wide range of cultures, creating a vibrant workforce where we can all learn from one another. The importance of diversity, equality and non-discrimination is highlighted in our Code of Conduct and is underpinned by our values, guiding the respectful way we behave towards one another.
We have more than 3,500 employees across the Group and our latest engagement survey showed an 18% increase in response rate.