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Getting rail on the curriculum

A key message at Infrarail was the need to foster an industry-wide approach to developing and recruiting a highly-skilled workforce of the future. 

One way which the industry is already aiming to achieve this is through collaborations with University Technical Colleges (UTCs), which offer a specialist professional and technical education, in a business-like environment, to students between 14 and 18 years old. 

During a discussion entitled ‘Getting rail on the curriculum’, Patricia Holgate, from TfL’s strategic talent, skills and executive development team, said: “We need to work as whole industry to get skills development right, we want to create UTCs as a sustainable option at TfL for the rail industry’s future.”

She highlighted that UTCs offer a great opportunity to influence secondary education as it gets rail back on the curriculum - allowing “industry to influence young people’s skillsets”. 

TfL has worked primarily with the Royal Greenwich UTC, which teaches technical qualifications focusing on engineering, construction and related industries alongside core academic subjects for GCSEs and A-Levels. The UTC opened last year and already has 300 students. 

As a non-financial engineering sponsor of the college, TfL has been working directly with the college to provide time and technical expertise through demonstrations and supporting the curriculum for students who enrolled in September 2013. 

In addition, TfL has donated a decommissioned Tube carriage to the UTC to help students with their practical development and learning. 

Lord Baker of Dorking, who is an advocate of the UTCs, was also on hand to talk about the developments being made at the colleges. 

He said: “The schools are very demanding. They have a working day of 8.30am-5pm, every day, with shorter holidays. But we discovered that one of the early adoptees of the UTC was the rail industry because Network Rail, Crossrail and TfL were finding a great difficulty in recruiting young people to work on the railways because [from the outside] it appeared to be a ‘Victorian’ industry, and it wasn’t as exciting as computing. But, the first company to support us was Network Rail.” 

He added that UTCs are attracting much support from the rail industry with ones supported by Crossrail, Network Rail, TfL and more. “The outside world doesn’t realise the complexity of the industry and the supply chain and how technologically advanced you are,” said Lord Baker. “If you don’t attract good technicians and engineers at a young age, you haven’t got much of a future frankly, and we are one of the few education solutions that does this training.” 

James Lloyd, resourcing manager at TfL, added the first year has been a real learning curve for all involved. However, he stated that what impressed many parents, who were considering sending their children to UTC Greenwich, was the standard of the current TfL apprentices and graduates. In September this year, TfL will also be introducing a new bespoke mentor programme to encourage and develop engineering students, and potential future rail leaders, while they study. 

“In terms of inspiring young people, and particularly 14 year olds,” said Lloyd, “TfL works closely with the London Transport Museum and they run our ‘Inspire Engineering’ sessions, which are open to all secondary schools to attend. And, so far, more than 2,000 students have taken part.” 

At the moment, 17 UTCs have been opened, a further 13 will open this year and it is expected that another 20 will open next year, with more awaiting approval. 

Talking about the TfL donated carriage at UTC Greenwich, Lord Baker said: “I’m told that if the students can get the doors to close 20 seconds quicker, the industry can save zillions. I don’t know how you do it, but you do apparently [he joked]. Our students work on projects like that up to two days a week, and 40% of their time is spent making and designing things with 60% on GCSEs and science. 

However, he berated the audience at Infrarail as only a small number of the audience owned up to knowing about 3D printing. “How many of you know about 3D printing? A handful? In a technical industry? That is a disgrace! An absolute disgrace! These are going to transform education and the UTC at Greenwich has six of them,” he said. 

“We are falling behind Europe in Level 3 and 4 training of engineers and technicians. It doesn’t matter who wins the next election, well not entirely [he joked] if we don’t train enough technicians and engineers we won’t be able to stimulate our industries, especially rail.” 

Holgate added that getting the right people with the right skills, in the right place at the right time is becoming increasingly more difficult. “It is actually holding the industry back in some cases, creating delays and raising costs,” she said. 

But the TfL official was confident that by working together with industry partners and UTCs it is possible to train the next generation. 

(Image L to R: Lord Baker, James Lloyd, Patricia Holgate, Bill Templeton) 

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email [email protected]


Dr.Peter Long   23/05/2014 at 11:09

kenneth baker was a very welcome speaker at earls court---i was very impressed!most staff in the industry welcome opportunities for training in all sorts of areas,which have been lost with privatisation.everybody should be able to gain a foundation degree in rail studies,specializing in their own area of expertise.utcs are a welcome development.

Ampox   23/05/2014 at 23:03

How about using rail-related examples in secondary school science (physics, mechanics, chemistry, metallurgy...)? Too many courses are purely academic. Being able to see applications in real life brings science and engineering to life for many students, and shows them why they are important. Too many teachers do not have this real life background

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