Britain's railways need trained professionals with the right skills to ensure a bright future, says Kath D'Archambaud, Policy Support, Association of Railway Training Providers
Britain's railway touches almost every community in the country. More than three million journeys are taken every day, helping Britain get to work and school. It's vital for the transport of goods and business and for tourism.
And demand is still growing. Demand for passenger services is expected to grow by at least 22 per cent by 2014 and rail freight demand is predicted to grow by 30 per cent over the next decade and up to 140 per cent over 30 years. There is government support for growth with commitment to capital projects including plans for the High Speed 2 rail link from London to Birmingham and the North.
The demand for skills
As well as this predicted growth the age profile of the rail industry workforce means that many skilled personnel will leave the industry in the next decade. Add to this the increasing technical complexity of the rail infrastructure and rail rolling stock and it is clear that the demand for skilled personnel now and in the future is enormous. The complexity of the railway industry means the breadth and depth of skill required is vast.
Engineers are needed at all levels from technician to senior manager and project engineer. They work on permanent way (track), electrification, signals and telecommunications and traction and rolling stock – building, inspecting, renewing and maintaining rail assets.
Drivers are needed for trains, trams and the many types of on-track plant and machinery used to build and maintain our railways. Network Rail recruits around 250 signallers each year, whose purpose is to regulate the movements of trains ensuring safety, and punctuality.
Operations and logistics need people to plan service schedules, control train movements, decide on investment and ensure services are maintained are running smoothly. Customer service personnel help passengers, sell tickets, make announcements and serve food and drink.
Leadership, management and training skills are also an essential requirement in all these areas.
Because the railway industry is necessarily highly regulated many jobs require introductory training or licenses to work. All track workers require Track Induction and Personal Track Safety (PTS) training and an extensive list of other specialist roles defined by Network Rail or London Underground require introductory and ongoing training and assessment to ensure a common standard across the industry
Following privatisation of the rail industry in 1994 established British Rail training programmes and career development pathways were fragmented. Factors such as the new commercial focus of rail companies, short term franchises and smaller companies meant less attention and investment was often devoted to training and development. Many skilled people took up the opportunity for redundancy packages and left the industry. This included trainers and training managers.
Over time many large rail companies have re-established quality provision for their internal staff. Network Rail for example has an engineering conversion programme that takes existing engineers with a range of experience and builds on their skills. They also recruit 250 signallers a year into their training school and 200 engineering apprentices a year into their much praised apprenticeship scheme.
Train Operating Companies often have their own training centres (many with high-tech equipment such as simulators similar to those used by pilots) for drivers and customer service personnel.
There is, however, also a vibrant private training sector serving the needs of the industry. It fulfils the needs of the rail market where internal training is not available or not cost-effective; for example in niche skill areas and for the many smaller sub-contractors.
The Association of Railway Training Providers (ARTP) is an independent trade association established shortly after privatisation and currently with over 60 member companies in all parts of the United Kingdom. The Association is committed to quality training provision. It seeks to raise the profile of training and assessment providers and provide a strategic and member’s lobby within the sector.
Many members have gained approval to offer courses that require provider accreditation. Its members employ some of the most experienced and expert trainers in the industry. They may also be able to guide potential recruits to the industry regarding the medical requirements and drugs and alcohol screening required for some positions.
Historically private rail training companies focused on the growing number of pan-industry licenses to work required by personnel in order to work on the Network Rail or London Underground infrastructure. ARTP has developed a close relationship with Network Rail in order to have input into its training and assessment materials and protocols.
There has, however, been an increase in providers now also offering longer academic and skill development programmes which are nationally accredited. Many are City & Guilds approved centres and deliver National Vocational Qualifications in Railway Services and Railway Engineering, including full apprenticeship programmes. ARTP has supported GoSkills, the Sector Skills Council, in the development of National Occupational Standards and the Apprenticeship Framework for the rail industry.
Higher education institutes, in collaboration with employers, are also beginning to be involved in courses specific to rail, including diplomas and degrees in Railway Operational Management, Railway Engineering and Railway Traction and Rolling Stock.
The National Skills Academy for Railway Engineering
A major current initiative that has been supported by ARTP since its inception is the National Skills Academy for Railway Engineering (NSARE). Launched in the House of Commons in December 2010 with government funds of up to £2.7 million NSARE also has substantial support and sponsorship from employers and other interested parties. The Academy is needed, in the words of Vince Cable: “To ensure there is a qualified and highly skilled workforce to support current and new challenges in the rail industry. “
A most welcome initiative linked to the launch of NSARE is work to develop a standard for quality training provision that will be used across the industry, both by Network Rail to approve providers for its licenses and other training packages and by NSARE for providers of its kite marked programmes. All parties are working together to make this a reality in the shortest possible timescale. In the future purchasers of training will know that providers who have been approved are audited on a regular basis to confirm that their management and quality assurance processes are sound and that their qualified trainers are delivering high quality materials in a consistently professional manner.
Apprenticeship to Fellowship is another NSARE initiative responding to the need to develop the rail professionals of the future. NSARE research demonstrates that the railway sector needs to double the number of apprentices it takes on each year from about 500 to 1,000. In order to ensure that they have the opportunity to obtain the qualifications to be able to progress to the very top of their profession NSARE has established a policy group with the Professional Engineering Institutions to develop a common approach to progressing through the various grades of Institution membership right through to Fellowship.
The rail industry has finally recognised and is rising to the challenge of its looming skills gap. But in difficult economic times it is essential that both investment and momentum are maintained.
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