With the Government committing to invest £9 billion in our railways over the next decade, this has arguably become the largest investment in the rail infrastructure in modern times. Writes Lawrence Dobie – Education & Training Director of Vital Skills Training.
It is all good news – for the commuter, for the rail industry and for the young people who might now have the prospect of a secure, satisfying job or career.
Among other things, this investment will bring electrification to areas such as the Welsh Valleys and the Great Western mainline which has the potential to create thousands of rail industry jobs.
The positions that will be created by this project are long-term and it will take an army of people with the necessary skills to maintain the new infrastructure and keep everything moving efficiently and safely. This is where one of the real challenges lies; in training these individuals to the required standard and ensuring that they receive appropriate professional development throughout their working life.
But hold on, something else has to happen first. Young people do not walk out of school and slip effortlessly into an engineering career in the rail industry. If only it was that simple.
First of all, and preferably before they choose their GCSE subjects, they need to be aware of what is available in the rail sector. An impressive 98% of teachers in state schools say they regard it as important that students meet potential employers. Already there are schemes that encourage this – a big step in the right direction. What the industry has to do is maintain that interest so they follow through with training.
Until recently apprenticeships were regarded as the poor relation when it came to moving on from school. University was the hard sell, the place to go, the goal to reach.
The hard fact is, though, that not everyone wants to go to university; some want to work and combine that hands-on experience with study. These are the young people
who could come into our industry – if only they knew what fantastic opportunities there are and what great training is available.
Many see the ‘glory days’ of apprenticeships as the 1950s and 1960s. Apprenticeships were the main route into a job in most manufacturing, engineering and construction industries. According to the government, the number of apprenticeships undertaken in the late 1960s rose to almost 150,000.
The decline in the UK’s manufacturing industries can explain the fall in Apprenticeships during the 1970s and 1980s, but it seems now we are experiencing an Apprenticeship renaissance. Recently there has been a change of focus and Apprenticeships are slowly becoming the realistic and recognised career option with the opportunity to progress onto a qualification in rail engineering at NVQ levels 2 and 3. The numbers rose 63.5% in 2010/11 over the previous year, with 457,200 individuals beginning apprenticeships.
The National Skills Academy for Railway Engineering (NSARE) is currently working to determine the future training needs of the industry and a report, funded by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR), will be published in the autumn. This will highlight which skills are needed, providing us with a framework around which we can do that all-essential planning.
It’s a tall order and, while we don’t have a crystal ball, we know there will be a demand for trained professionals. What we need to do is ensure that we have the resources in place to provide the necessary training.
One thing is certain: we can’t afford to stand still.