Rail Industry Focus

01.09.13

A new approach to training

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Aug/Sept 2013

The quality of training and assessment at two businesses within Balfour Beatty Rail (UK) has leapt up over the past year, with inspectors on behalf of NSARE confirming that Balfour Beatty Rail Projects (BBRP) is now a top-rated ‘outstanding’ provider in every category, after a disappointing performance in its previous inspection last year. Balfour Beatty Rail Renewals (BBRR) also improved, and its rating is now ‘good’. RTM spoke to BBRP’s learning and development manager Helen Yates, and BBRR’s organisation development manager Chloe Tucknott. 

Under the new accreditation regime of rail industry training providers instituted by NSARE, the National Skills Academy for Railway Engineering, the frequency of inspections depends upon the result of the previous inspection. In 2012, Balfour Beatty’s Rail Projects and Rail Renewals businesses received surprisingly poor scores, and were both in the bottom quartile of the nearly 100 providers inspected. Both were deemed ‘satisfactory’, though that grade has since been more accurately named ‘requires improvement’. Those grades meant they would face reinspection a year later – a process which has recently concluded. 

In their latest inspection, BBRP was found to be ‘outstanding’ in every category, and BBRR also improved, achieving a ‘good’ score (it was ‘outstanding’ in two out of six categories). RTM wanted to know more about how these remarkable turn-arounds were achieved. 

Balfour Beatty Rail Projects 

There is an important context to BBRP’s poor 2012 score: when it was first inspected, it had no actual training organisation in place, and the trainers and assessors sat in a different part of the group. Helen Yates, the dedicated learning and development manager for the business, was not actually appointed until May 2012, after the first assessment in March of that year. 

She told us: “The Projects business TUPE transferred the trainers and assessors from another part of the BB Group to work directly for the business, meaning there was a lot more focus. 

“The initial inspection, which came out as ‘satisfactory’, was probably a fair assessment at that point in time – because there was no real primary focus on the Projects organisation. It was just one of the many areas of training that one part of the Balfour Beatty group offered, not only to the group but to third parties as well.” 

The changes to the way training was handled were already in the pipeline at the time of the first inspection, she said, though she added that the poor result “reinforced” the need to turn learning and development into a business focused professional function striving towards excellence in our training standards. “That’s now paid dividends,” she said.

Plan of action 

Yates studied the previous inspection report to put together a plan of action. Some aspects of the old report were rendered irrelevant by the organisational changes, but other parts were useful, she said, especially the self-assessment report. “That gave me a management framework to use. I found that invaluable.” 

A quality improvement plan was worked up, with separate actions for Yates herself, for the trainers and assessors during events, and for wider co-ordination. 

A significant amount of planning was done to ensure the whole process of training and assessment and Sentinel accreditation was less disruptive to the business’ operational requirements, while improving its quality. 

Yates said: “The main focus, and where we excelled in the inspection, is on the quality of the training delivered. We’ve been striving for excellence to ensure the learner outcomes are achieved. We wanted to look at what these people need to learn at these events, and to ensure that is what’s being achieved.

“We can manage that much more effectively with an internal training department.” 

‘The potential was already there’ 

BBRP’s main office is in Birmingham, but training and assessment takes place nationwide, including at Sandiacre, Kirby, Bristol, Manchester, Paisley and Walsall. Most of the content is delivered in-house, especially in critical areas like COSS (Controller of Site Safety) assessment. But Yates added: “The less important and influential areas we may outsource.” 

The NSARE inspections, carried out by Tribal, focus on the educational qualities of the training, not the technical content.

Yates praised the new inspection, which took place in mid-May, as “very thorough” and said the final report was also much more detailed and useful than the previous one. She welcomed the fact that the inspectors looked at what was being done on wider learning and development issues, not just focusing on Sentinel training. She said: “Development of our people is an absolute priority and BBRP are passionate about that, hence the investment to have us sat here as an internal function.

“The senior management team within BBRP identified that there needs to be investment in people; but the potential was already there. We knew we had competent and skilled professional people, and we employ inspirational trainers and assessors. It was all there, it was about bringing it all together.” 

Achieving the ‘outstanding’ grade has “generated so much interest in the training capability of the business”, she said. “I’ve had a large number of calls.” 

Yates was encouraged by the work NSARE has done so far, saying: “NSARE is definitely pointing the standard of training within the industry in the right direction. It’s starting to regulate the industry and get it away from bad habits of the past. Further focus on this will ensure that we deliver competent individuals to the industry, which is paramount to both safety and performance. NSARE has a great role and I support SkillsID and the skills forecast and the other things it does, and I think NSARE will bring great changes to the industry.” 

Gil Howarth, NSARE’S chief executive, congratulated Balfour Beatty on its rapid response in tackling the issues raised in its first inspection report and urged the rest of the industry to demonstrate a similar willingness to change and become outstanding. He said: “We are delighted Balfour Beatty has wholeheartedly embraced the concept of continuous improvement that underpins our accreditation regime. This sends a very strong message to the industry that companies of Balfour Beatty’s size and stature can respond quickly to change. We will continue to support them and other like-minded providers as we strive to raise standards in the rail industry.”

Balfour Beatty Rail Renewals 

BBRR’s head office is in Redhill, Surrey, while its training facilities are at Hoo Junction in Kent and Broxbourne in Hertfordshire. It delivers track safety (Sentinel) training and assessment, technical training, signalling and electrification skills training. 

The latest NSARE inspection report says: “Balfour Beatty Rail Renewals is a good supplier of training to its own personnel and to a small number of employees from other client companies. The planning and delivery of training and assessment is undertaken in a rigorous and efficient manner. The company is fully compliant with Sentinel requirements. 

“The provider has made very good headway in reviewing its training since the last inspection and in addition to the traditional courses now delivers the innovative F1 and ‘Assert to Recert’ training programmes. 

“Learners’ pass rates on their short training programmes are outstanding at just over 99.7%. The standard of training is outstanding and learners respond well to the very professional way in which training is delivered.” 

Chloe Tucknott, organisation development manager for BBRR, told RTM: “We were delighted with the overall result and the specific comments on some of our programmes.” 

She explained that in Q1 2012, the company began a two-year transformation project. Tucknott said: “That involved restructuring our team, redefining our vision and our success measures. Our aim is to be industry-leading in inspiring and developing our people to deliver excellence. 

“We started it prior to the NSARE inspection, as we were aware that the way in which we developed our people required a different approach.” 

She described the recent inspection as “constructive, supportive and informative” and added: “All of the inspectors were respectful and genuinely interested in supporting our improvement.” 

Tucknott told us: “We are over halfway through the transformation programme now and have several significant achievements, including the introduction of innovative development programmes F1 and ‘Assert the Recert’ and an industry-unique simulation facility. We have much left to achieve and the NSARE result has fuelled our commitment to do so.”

Extract from the BBRP inspection report 

• The overall quality of provision at Balfour Beatty Rail Projects is outstanding and fully complies with Sentinel requirements. 

• Training is of the highest quality and includes an appropriate balance of practical skills and theoretical knowledge, which leads to very high pass rates. 

• The quality of provision is outstanding. Trainers’ wealth of experience and inclusion of variety of learning activities built into training sessions ensures that learners gain a clear understanding and achieve competency. Facilities at the Sandiacre training centre are excellent. A welcoming, friendly atmosphere is created thus

ensuring learners are confident enough to raise any concerns and ask questions for elements of the training that they had limited experience of. The trainer displayed empathy with learners when feeding back following assessment, providing additional opportunities for learners to demonstrate their understanding and competency. 

• Leadership and management are outstanding. The Learning and Development manager has galvanized all team members together ensuring that significant progress in developing and implementing integrated high quality systems to meet the existing and future needs of the business are fully in place.

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