Interviews

23.02.17

Intertrain: ready for the future

Source: RTM Oct/Nov 16

RTM recently attended Intertrain’s ‘Driving for Success’ event in Doncaster, where leaders from major players such as Carillion and Babcock got together to celebrate the company’s latest cohort of rail apprentices. Luana Salles finds out more about the secret behind the company’s success.

It’s no secret that many rail industry heavyweights started at the bottom. Perhaps the best example of this is Sir Terry Morgan, who started as an apprentice in the automotive industry in 1965 and now champions the cause as part of his role as chairman of Crossrail. 

Recognising the potential that apprenticeships offer to help young people climb from the lower ranks of the industry up to managerial positions, Intertrain was created in 1997 as a national railway safety training and assessment provider, delivering high-quality training services across all rail disciplines. It employs over 40 trainers and assessors, making it the largest commercial training provider in the country. 

Almost 20 years later, the company brought together industry leaders to celebrate the latest cohort of 60 apprentices graduating this year, following on from the hundreds already trained. Carillion alone will be taking 31 apprentices this year, with Ballycommon and First Structure taking the rest. 

A blueprint for a bright future 

Keith Jessop, Intertrain’s managing director, opened the event, held in the company’s Doncaster headquarters in late September, by saying he hopes this milestone would act as a “blueprint for integrating more apprentices into the wider rail infrastructure, in level 2 maintenance and level 2 OLE apprentices”. 

To celebrate with Intertrain was its sister company, First Structure, an independent agency that supplies skilled labour – from blue to white collar – to rail worksites and offices around the country, on either a short- or long-term basis. 

Its managing director, Alex Pond, spoke to RTM after the event, which was attended by all 60 qualified apprentices as well as Doncaster’s mayor Ros Jones and council CEO Jo Miller. 

“These young guys are now experienced and working really well onsite to deliver rail engineering – that proves that the stability of the industry can be met by young people,” he said. “There’s no need to bring people from abroad, because if we can make an investment in the youth, we could end up with a bright future.” 

Many success stories 

Pond, whose genuine passion for apprenticeships shone through at all times, argued that he wanted to offer young people a “sustained quality programme  that gives them the opportunity to move wherever they want in the industry”. And that is exactly what Intertrain and First Structure seem to have achieved, according to a handful of uniformed young men who discussed their “brilliant experience” with the companies during the event. 

Tom Harty, for example, is an ex-boxer who broke his hand and decided to try his luck in the rail sector. After passing his interview, he started an apprenticeship with First Structure, moved on to become a crane controller, and eventually went to TXM where he now acts as a lift planner. 

Doncaster Council’s Miller later revealed that she even used Harty’s success story with Intertrain as part of her pitch to bring the National College for High Speed Rail to Doncaster. 

Rhys Robinson, a past apprentice, said he started out two-and-a-half years ago working for First Structure and on Babcock sites out of the Salty depot. “Hard work and dedication got me to where I am today,” he told the apprentices in the room. “My career doesn’t have any limits now, and neither should yours.” 

Bespoke training model 

Steve Welsh, Babcock’s programme manager, argued that the success of each apprentice comes down to how enthusiastic they are. His company first started teaming up with Intertrain four years ago and has since then taken on between 50 and 60 apprentices, employed weekly. 

It’s exactly this bespoke, short- or long-term intake model that Carillion Rail’s managing director, Andy Joy, argued was Intertrain’s special selling point. 

“Not everybody is at the scale of the Carillions and the Babcocks of this world,” he told RTM. “The ability of having this Intertrain model is that you can tap into that, so even if you’re a small provider, SME-type level, and you’re only taking one or two apprentices, you can tap onto the back of the good stuff some of the bigger players are doing. 

“Every apprentice brings a different dynamic to your business. If you think about the cross section of individuals – we have ex-military, people who worked in chocolate factories – it all adds to being a diverse workforce, and adds new talent, new energy, a different way of looking at things. You need to have that at all levels to keep your business fresh and moving forward. 

“Apprenticeships allow us to bring them in at a base entry level, with no experience or knowledge of the railway, and take them through the steps of what the industry is about, learning the basic safety techniques and approaches that we have, and provide them that platform to then develop further and take their careers forward.” 

Outstanding need: from 31 to 120 apprentices 

Brian Jebson, Carillion Rail’s general manager, agreed, explaining that his company’s big leap – from 31 Intertrain apprentices this year to 120 in 2017 – was due to the “realisation that we needed to do something”. 

“We are Network Rail’s biggest partner, but we haven’t always been successful at bringing apprentices on. We have a new model, a new route to bring those guys on, so we’re going to make the most of it,” Jebson told RTM. 

He noted that Intertrain is one of Carillion’s main training providers for safety and technical skills, but this is the first year they’ve taken on apprentices from them as well: “They are really inspiring. Some of them are going to Crossrail this weekend, some of them will be working on the Sheffield tram-train, some are in Doncaster station. 

“We have a need, and it’s an outstanding need, with the ageing demographic of the rail people we see in our own business: we need that fresh blood now. And if we don’t do it now, it’ll be another year further down, and another year further down.” 

Directorship of Intertrain edit

RNN Training 

Also speaking at the event were Phil Sayles and Tim Gladman, both from RNN Group, an education and training provider whose RNN Training branch has been Intertrain’s partner for five years. “This relationship is quite unique in terms of how we work with some of our subcontractor partners, in that we let Intertrain do what they’re good at,” said Gladman. 

“These are the people with the specialisms within the rail industry. Our role is to provide that support on quality and contract management, allowing Intertrain to understand funding and help them make the best use of that. 

“But more than that, we support Intertrain in terms of professional advising guidance – we’ve helped their staff develop and get better teachers, assessors and lecturers. And what we have at the end of all that is a strong and honest relationship, because we recognise the potential that Intertrain have and we want to share in their desire to grow and to improve.” 

RNN Training has trained over 300 apprenticeships, predominantly at an intermediate level, with over 100 of those carried out with Intertrain. More recently, the two companies also put together traineeships, which are designed as a “stepping stone” for those who aren’t ready to jump straight into apprenticeships but already need some work experience and qualifications under their belt.

The time is now 

Pond, who is also operations director at Intertrain alongside his role at First Structure, explained that the first apprenticeship course lasts between 12-18 months, with another three years if they go onto level 3. When an employer approaches Intertrain in need of apprentices, the company devises a tailored programme that suits the employer’s skills need, after which they advertise the roles and bring in young people to interview. If the employer is satisfied with the interview, Intertrain puts the training plan into place. 

“It’s imperative that everybody buys into the purpose of apprenticeships, because they are the future of the UK – I’ve seen their success first-hand,” he argued. “It’s as simple as that.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION

W: www.railway-training-courses.com

E:  alex.pond@intertrain.biz

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