Rail Industry Focus

01.03.15

Time to 'Be The Best'

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Feb/March 2015

RTM’s David Stevenson reports from the official opening of the new trackside National Training Academy in Sheffield, and looks at how the military vein running through Linbrooke has led to its success, including winning the Training & Development category at the UK Rail Industry Awards 2015.

The British Army’s motto is ‘Be the Best’ and this is a sentiment close to the heart of Sheffield-based engineering firm Linbrooke Services Ltd too.

 The SME, which specialises in providing cost-effective engineering solutions for telecommunications, power and signalling projects, builds its field teams up predominantly from former HM Forces personnel, recruited directly through its internal City & Guilds and EAL approved training facility.

 RTM was fortunate enough to attend the official opening of the company’s new state-of-the-art trackside National Training Academy, with music mogul and rail enthusiast Pete Waterman OBE announcing the academy as officially opened.

 Hands-on

 The academy, developed by Linbrooke and its specialist training arm ntrs (Network Training and Resource Solutions Limited), is an all-encompassing centre specialising in telecommunications, power and signalling training.

 More than 130 visitors from 43 different organisations, including the local MP Angela Smith and deputy lord mayor of Sheffield, Cllr Talib Hussain, attended the opening day, taking tours of the academy and seeing demonstrations of blown fibre, fibre splicing and live cable joining.

 Speaking to us about the academy, and the hands-on nature of the training on offer, Waterman said that there is no other way to learn: you’ve literally got to get your hands on the equipment. The signal cubicles and ballast at the site is the best way to train people, he said.

 “Classrooms are great, but when you’re doing a joint and the rain is coming down and the wind is blowing at 90mph – those are real conditions – you need to have had the hands-on training,” noted Waterman.

 He added that there is a shortfall in the rail workforce, which will only get worse unless it is tackled, and training needs to be taken “far more seriously” than it ever has been.

 “My plea is ‘more centres like this, please’, [and] a change in attitude from the government that employers need a break and some help to train up the next generation.”

 Project Phoenix

 During an impassioned opening address, Lee Hallam, CEO of Linbrooke Services, discussed the need for developing a high-quality workforce to deliver 21st century infrastructure projects in rail, but also the wider economy.

 He also discussed Project Phoenix, which is aimed at providing 14-16 year olds from deprived backgrounds with work experience and training opportunities – a commitment that was welcomed by Waterman and the delegates at the event.

 Hallam told RTM after his speech: “This academy isn’t about where we are, it’s about what’s going to come out of here: the employment opportunities, growth and output. That’s what excites me. What this allows us to do is turn out multi-disciplined engineers, with real hands-on experience trained in a safe working environment. We have a good culture, track record and we have been delivering for 10 years.

 “And for us, to bring in kids at 14 years of age into a culture that is safe and disciplined, allows us to show them what is on offer career-wise for the future.”

 At the training academy, which is an accredited City & Guilds training school and an EAL (Excellence in Achievement & Learning) approved assessment centre, a wide range of courses – from entry level to  complex ‘off the shelf’ training – are offered.

 For example, in telecommunications, Linbrooke and ntrs offer operational communication systems training, including Station Information and Surveillance Systems, Driver Only Operations systems, concentrators and lineside equipment. This is all done at the Sheffield academy, which includes an authentic track layout with a simulated rail platform and a live fibre network, which incorporates both legacy and 21st century equipment.

Linbrooke NTRS Launch Event

 Military minds

 As mentioned earlier, Linbrooke delivers resettlement training for forces leavers on behalf of the Ministry of Defence and is a career transmission partnership preferred supplier. But what helps with this training is that more than half the staff have an ex-military background.

 Tony Gaunt, managing director at ntrs, told us: “The academy is massively important to us. As you’ve heard from Lee, we care massively about our ex-forces personnel and are very fortunate that most of our training staff – including myself – are ex-military.

 “What people don’t recognise, sadly, with ex-service personnel is how to interpret their competencies from being in military language into civilian language.”

 But Linbrooke’s ex-forces trainers “can interpret, speak to and understand soldiers and profile them a lot better than perhaps a civilian person can”, he added, telling RTM that one of the edicts from Network Rail, vendors and clients alike is to engage with the military because they have the soft skills and transferable skills to be used in rail.

 However, Gaunt was worried that as well as there being a potential shortfall in trained people for the workforce, there is a shortage in trained trainers.

 “We have training courses in place to train more trainers, we’ve implemented that so we can single-out the better qualified and put them on a programme so they can be trained as trainers,” he said. “We’re keen to do that because they’re then the next generation of trainers that we can continue on to keep up the high-quality succession.”

 There are a number of examples of people – many of them ex-military – who have come through training courses and are now trainers or employees at Linbrooke, including Tracey Morrison, Jason Garside and Nigel Wells.

 One recent graduate from the centre’s telecommunications course is Paul Wildgoose, a former Royal Marine who has now become a resource manager in Linbrooke’s power networks division.

 He told us: “The key point is that ntrs and Linbrooke itself identify and understand the key skillset that ex-servicemen do hold in their toolbox. It is emphasising those skills and them understanding it, which helps that process and transition from a military career into seeking other employment.

 “I’ve just completed the six-week telecoms course and the instructors have been very credible and knowledgeable with their experience and the style of delivery has been similar to what I’m used to, with a number of the trainers being ex-military themselves. Moving on from this, I’ve been offered a job with Linbrooke – not taking up the telecoms role as an engineer, but in a management role.”

 Foot in the door

 Asked about Project Phoenix and the opportunities the facility can provide to young people in the region, Wildgoose told us that anyone leaving education, whatever position they find themselves in, there’s an opportunity to be grasped and taken upon.

 “The rail sector itself covers varying areas, which can lead to greater things,” he said, “and the industry is growing and if people want to be a part of that they need to get their foot in the door.”

 A number of delegates on the day, including Bob Whelan, business development manager in segment sales rail at Eaton; Claire Thompson, business manager in rail at VMS; and Dominic Jofirisi, assistant signals and telecoms maintenance engineer at Network Rail, told us how impressed they were with the facilities and training on offer.

 Jeremy Candfield, director general of the Railway Industry Association (RIA), said it was very good to see private companies responding to the demand for more and more skills across the railway industry. “The demand is prospectively huge, we know that there are shortages – highlighted by NSARE – so it’s great to see something being done about it on the ground.”

 Although unable to attend the event, transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin sent a statement via Chris Leech MBE, lead corporate advisor to the transport sector for the Prince of Wales’ charity BITC (Business in the Community): “In order to build a world-class railway you need a world-class workforce. With an engineering industry that is recognised around the globe, South Yorkshire is the perfect home for the trackside National Training Academy.

 “As part of our long-term economic plan, we’re investing record amounts in the UK’s railways by generating jobs and training opportunities. This new academy will ensure the local people in Chapeltown see the benefits of this investment, as well as developing a lasting legacy for the future. I sincerely congratulate Lee Hallam and everyone involved in bringing this project to fruition.”

Linbrooke NTRS

 A focused, loyal and productive workforce

 Leech also told RTM that as a “valued” and “pro-active” member of BITC, Linbrooke Services has consistently proven that by investing in their employees not only creates a more “focused, loyal and productive workforce”, but Linbrooke’s actions have helped put South Yorkshire on a global stage, delivering engineering excellence across the globe.

 The mission statement for the National Training Academy is to provide engineering and technical education that recognises the unique potential of each candidate, accelerates learning and personal growth, and lends a shared sense of purpose in building successful and rewarding careers.

 Matthew Game, project manager in IP signalling at Network Rail, who has worked with Linbrooke on several projects, said it was incredible to see how the facility has matured.

 “As a client, I’ve seen it grow and Linbrooke is hitting the industry with a lot of development, training and a new mentality,” he said. “They have a ‘go to’, ‘can do’ attitude, and I would say this facility is a good example of what they can do.”

 Game also went on to say: “Our CP5 challenges will only be achievable if we as an industry support small-to-medium businesses like Linbrooke to develop the required skillsets that the country needs. These companies need to have their endeavours promoted and supported at every level.”

He added that it was great to see how, with the facility, the company is affecting the local area positively and how the training courses on offer can help with the resettlement of ex-servicemen.

 Conscious of Linbrooke’s success in securing and delivering rail projects, Lee Hallam told us: “I think it says a lot about the culture of our business as we have a fantastic safety record, are good on quality and good on delivery – and we have a die-hard attitude. Also, it is so easy for people form the military to re-settle into here.”

 He added that while Linbrooke has good relationships with the industry, he doesn’t take anything for granted. “We’re only as good as our last job.

 “Our success has run on the back of good delivery and it is on that basis that we aim to continue moving forward,” said Hallam. “The last thing I ever want is to be sat in front of a client being embarrassed about our performance.

 “We create competition from the bottom up. So the guys who work for us always know there is the next generation of workers to come through. And it can be a great motivator.”

 Feet on the ground

 The South Yorkshire region is to benefit from the National College for High Speed Rail being built in Doncaster, and there were delegates from HS2 at the open day looking at what they could learn from the trackside training facility.

 Hallam told us that he is very happy seeing what is happening at the grassroots level, but he doesn’t want to look too much into the future.

 “If you start looking too far forward, you forget what’s happening today,” he said. “I need to be aware of the ground around my feet and ensuring our service, product, our people and training is right. And that is what we’ll continue to do.”

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

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