Training rail's transient workforce

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Jun/Jul 2012

RTM speaks to NSARE chief executive Gil Howarth about its joint bid with Network Rail, TfL and Crossrail for Government funds to upskill the transient workforce – the so-called ‘weekend warriors’.

The three biggest employers of rail engineers have joined with NSARE, the National Skills Academy for Railway Engineering, in a £6m bid for funding from the Employer Ownership pilot run by the UK Commission for Employment & Skills.

The pilot fund, launched by the Government in September 2011, is aimed at finding more effective ways of improving workforce skills.

The rail industry has identified the transient track maintenance workforce as a prime target for upskilling, hence the decision of TfL, Crossrail, NSARE and Network Rail to bid for money to train 7,500 people.

NSARE chief executive Gil Howarth said: “The pilot fund invites industry to bid for training funds, where there is cross-industry support for the need for additional training, which extends all the way down the supply chain.

“We want to upskill the transient workforce, much of which is self-employed – the ‘weekend warriors’. We’ve submitted a bid to train 7,500 people, with the full cooperation of the main contractors, the sub-contractors and the agencies, through the National Rail Contractors Group and the Rail Industry Contractors Association. It’s the first time that the industry has come together to bid for this funding.”

Applications to the bid closed at the end of April, with results expected by the end of July.

Explaining how the training would ultimately be delivered, Howarth said: “The funding would come to the Academy and we would select from our approved, accredited list of training providers, because we’d want a significant number around the country. It’s a national initiative so clearly we want a significant number, so that travelling time and costs are kept to a minimum – a good geographic spread. We haven’t decided the exact number yet and we will also be selecting a partner, one or two, to programme manage the whole training provision. It will probably start with a pilot early next year and extend for about 18 months.”

Asked if the bid was ‘all or nothing’ or could prospectively be approved in parts and rejected in others, Howarth said it was unclear until the assessments of the bids had been completed by UK CES.

Ever since NSARE was launched, Howarth has been insistent on the need to overhaul training for engineering working on the railway, for the benefit of individual employers, safety, and the industry as a whole.

He said: “Everybody who works on the railway should be trained to a minimum competence of level 2. This will provide that training, to make sure that everybody who works out there has that competence. It’ll have a massive impact and we believe it will significantly reduce costs in the longer term.

“We’ve had it confirmed that the bid is excellent value for money – in other words, it’s a cheaper way of doing it, rather than the Government just providing funding to colleges and then employers having to go to colleges or private sector training providers. Here it will be one team, one focus, dedicated to rail and properly managed.”

He said there was an urgent need for railway workers to have training beyond basic track induction and the requirement to hold a PTS.

He said: “The training will be based on a standard framework and will depend on the individual’s competence – some will have already had some training and some will have had none. We’ll assess the individual’s needs and we’ll work with the individual and make sure he gets what he needs to achieve this certificate.

“The employers of the individual will be responsible for ensuring they’ve got to the minimum level, under the Network Rail standard. We will not fund that training, but once they’ve got the minimum, then we will provide the additional training so that they get this level two award. This will be the first nationally recognised qualification in track engineering.”

Howarth says the innovative joint bid is “definitely” a direct result of the closer collaboration between the major rail organisations through their membership of the NSARE board: Crossrail chairman Terry Morgan also chairs NSARE, for example, while another board member, Network Rail’s engineering director Steve Yianni, chairs NSARE’s infrastructure skills policy group.

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