Rail Industry Focus

18.04.16

Delivering high-quality training for the next generation

Source: RTM Apr/May 16

Andrew Spencer, director of commercial services at The Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), discusses the recent acquisition of Amber Train and the plans for its future.

Delivering high-quality training for the next generation of rail engineers and technicians, alongside growing commercial revenue streams, were the main reasons behind the recent IMechE acquisition of Amber Train. 

The institution which, for a number of years, has been building its commercial business portfolio, bought the training provider back in November 2015. 

Wide benefits 

Speaking to RTM, Andrew Spencer, director of commercial services at IMechE, said: “It is a commercial venture, but there is a wider benefit: preparing the next generation of engineers. I think there is a general social good being done if you’re helping to provide the railway industry with an effective labour force.” 

Historically, Amber Train provides traineeships and apprenticeships to those just out of education or towards the end of prison sentences. Once Amber Train trainees complete an initial training programme, they are placed with an employer and supported until they complete an NVQ Level 2 apprenticeship. 

“What is interesting with this acquisition is we are, very much, dealing with a different age group to our normal membership,” said Spencer. 

“We are dealing with school leavers, and providing employability related training as well as practical railway maintenance skills. The side, which is interesting, is that it [Amber Train] runs programmes in and for prisons.”

Opportunity is enormous 

Headquartered in Retford, Nottinghamshire, Amber Train has activities around England at a combination of training centres on heritage railway sites which provide the practical training environment, and prison education units, which include training centres and railway structures. 

Spencer noted that some in the industry may “raise their eyebrows” at the acquisition by a professional association, but added that “surely the scale of investment in the rail industry in this country means that there is room for many providers as long as they are doing it properly and well”. 

“The demand for good, well-trained labour in the rail industry is enormous,” said Spencer, adding that IMechE will be very careful not to expand too quickly. 

In his utopia, Spencer added that he would always want a couple of hundred apprentices on the books at any one time. While not saying how many he would like to increase this to, he said that over the next 12 months, “I will be looking to increase both the heritage site programme numbers and prison programmes but in a very carefully controlled way”. 

Not short of applications 

Asked about the engineering skills shortage, and changing the image and perception of the railways as a career, Spencer said: “We are not generally short of applications to go on to programmes, we interview every potential trainee and apprentice but we don’t accept all of them. The interview is to make sure they have the right skillset and attitude to work on the railways. 

“You can’t work in this environment and worry about whether it is a bit cold on a February morning and you don’t fancy going outside. There is an attitude that we want to see is evident in the interview and trainee, otherwise they aren’t going to cut it. We do have to filter.” 

Training trainers 

As well as developing the next generation of engineers, Spencer also has ambitions for Amber Train to potentially become a trainer of trainers. 

“We are being particular in who we take on as trainers,” he said. “I think, short-term, we are looking at the conventional routes for experienced trainers. Over time, however, I would like to have the situation where we have the potential to be a trainer of training.” 

Other than the “obvious commercial reasons” for the acquisition, Spencer added that the purchase makes a statement and commitment to an industry in the IMechE’s heartland. 

“The training of young people to work on railways professionally is such a sensible and obvious move given the institution’s background and history,” he said. “So, why wouldn’t we do it?”

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email opinion@railtechnologymagazine.com

 

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