Rail jobs, staff issues and training


New qualification in railway training and education

The requirement to adapt to rapid change, whether imposed by outside agencies or driven by internal forces, is a fact of life for people working in Britain’s railway industry. Railway staff at all levels require regular updating of their knowledge, skills and understanding, to ensure that they continue to do their jobs to the necessary standard. To be successful in providing appropriate interventions, trainers and training managers must themselves be encouraged to deve¬lop their competencies. Recent research, funded and managed by the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB), has led to the conclusion that there is an urgent need to up-skill or re-qualify railway training staff since their role in shaping the current and future work¬force of the industry is absolutely crucial. In effect, training staff influence the ability of the work¬force to cope with change and to contribute fully to learning organisations.

In general, industry specific training and education have to be arranged internally in railway businesses, due to the very specialist nature of many of the activities and tasks being under¬taken. Often, activities are of a safety critical nature, imposing great demands not only on the individual learner but also on the quality and performance of the trainers or instructors in¬volved. In the light of the above, the authors contend that trainers need an education that allows them to understand the cognitive processes involved in training. It is no longer acceptable to provide trainers with just the basic skills involved in transmitting knowledge. In effect, the authors would like trainers to act more like teachers.

Where skills based development is concerned, instructors are usually selected from a group of staff already working in the area, e.g., driver trainers would usually have been drivers them¬selves, for a period of maybe 10 years or more. Interpersonal skills, such as an ability to com¬municate and empathise with others, may be taken into account in the selection process al¬though the authors are aware of railway businesses where only seniority counts. The future trainers therefore know the tasks and the demands of the job well but may not have had any experience of educating others and of thereby transferring their own know-how.

To date, the route to acquiring these additional skills has been through courses leading to City and Guilds Qualification 7331, a variety of local instructional techniques courses and various learning and development NVQ units (typically L9, L10, L11 & L13). Some organi¬sations also require their trainers to demonstrate competence in assessment, addressed by A1 and V1. However, all these qualifications are generic, with little reference to the particularly exacting demands of the railway industry. The expectation of managers is that the training skills and know how, in com¬bination with the trainer’s task experience and natural enthusiasm, guarantee success in one-to-one as well as one-to-many training situations.

Unfortunately, two important aspects of the classroom relation¬ship are often overlooked, namely, that of establishing respect for the teacher and that of allowing the teacher to inspire the student to excel. Inspirational leadership and respect in the class room are normally put down to a teacher’s communication skills, personality and experience. However, both aspects can be strengthened greatly by ensuring that the instructor has a broad and deep under¬standing of the industry and a wide knowledge base in the specific area of instruction.

The writers of this brief article feel that people who commission training are often perplexed that students’ feedback about individual instructors can differ greatly, even where presenters teach the same subject, using the same materials with a similar audience. The authors are of the opinion that a well educated trainer, with a broad horizon, will perform better than a person offering the minimum range of competencies. This is likely to be true even in areas where the task is defined quite narrowly, such as in the case of instructing train drivers, either in the cab or in the simulator. From the perspective of the trainer, a broader repertoire or range of knowledge is likely to disencumber the task of training, to increase the level of in¬terest and the rewards, especially if she or he ex¬periences greater respect from the audience.

The Railway Research and Education team at the University of Birmingham, in partnership with Rail Training International, is planning to launch a new qualification for trainers and educators working in the railway industry. The postgraduate Certificate in Railway Training and Education or CRTE is intended to allow existing and new trainers to enhance their know how transfer and assessment skills while also extending their understanding of the wider railway industry. In addition, the Certificate is expected to further the domain specific know¬ledge of the trainers. In the case of driver training, this could be knowledge about the theory of railway operations and railway planning and the particular characteristics of AC and DC power supplies for electric trains.

It is planned to run a pilot CRTE from April 2008, aimed at driver trainers and driver training managers. To be successful in this postgraduate Certificate, students must complete four one week taught modules at the University, approximately one per month, followed by a research project. The classroom modules are planned to last from 9 am on Monday to 4pm on Friday, that is, a full working week. The research project will normally be undertaken as part of the student’s day to day job. There is homework to be completed too, parti¬cularly during the revision period before the exams!

The topics to be covered on the driver training CRTE include ‘Strategic Management of Railway Operations’, ‘Training and Education Theory for Railways’, ‘Traction Systems Engineering’ and ‘Training and Education Practice for Railways’. The operations and traction modules are identical to those taught on the well-known programme in Railway Systems Engineering and Integration at the University of Birmingham. The training and education modules, by contrast, are being developed specifi¬cally for the CRTE and will include training in the use of higher level presentation tools.

The research project is expected to require about 8 weeks of intensive study, but the choice of topic and the methodology for the study are left open to the student. However, both must be approved by the University and the employer before the student can start the project. Many participants will base their work on the development of a training course or enhanced training materials, for example, the preparation of storyboards for an electronic learning activity. The research project is supported by two Saturday workshops and supervised by an experienced academic teacher.

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