Changing systems and standards is a challenge for all industries. Reforms can be a reaction to major incidents or they can just be part of a natural evolution.
The Association of Railway Training Providers (ARTP) is the industry body which represents those who train and supply the trainers that equip the thousands of people delivering projects across the network.
Founded in 1994, the ARTP is the mouthpiece for around 75 per cent of training providers in the UK. The group was headed by Andy McKenna of Amtrain but, after four years as chairman, Andy is stepping down to be replaced by Cleshar’s training manager, Gail Peters.
On February 26, the ARTP held its Annual General Meeting (AGM) at Network Rail’s training centre in Walsall – the largest of Network Rail’s four workforce development centres – to discuss the burning issues facing the training sector. The event also gave members a forum in which to put their concerns to the infrastructure manager and accreditation body in person.
Four key issues were at the centre of the debate: the Sentinel system, the role of NSARE, the future of controllers of site safety (COSS) and the introduction of E-learning.
With more than 25 years’ experience within the industry, Gail said, ‘I am fully aware of the impact of change and what new challenges bring to both trainers and training companies.’
Part of ARTP’s remit is to try and feed members’ views back to Network Rail. Network Rail is represented on the ARTP board and, as well as communicating the views of training providers, it gives the infrastructure manager an opportunity to communicate changes within the organisation directly to training providers.
There are currently around 22,000 COSS’s in the UK, but over the next few years, Network Rail will introduce reforms that will see the job title disappear altogether. Until the AGM, exactly how this change would impact on training providers was unclear.
This change in safety culture within Network Rail was driven by the death of Scott Dobson at Saxilby in 2012. A report by the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) following the fatality, urged Network Rail to review its use of agency staff and put measures in place to allow it to assess the performance of those it was using in safety leadership roles.
Network Rail’s head of safety Keith Miller confirmed to ARTP members that as a result the COSS will soon be replaced by a Safe Work Supervisor (SWS), who will be employed by either Network Rail or a principle contractor.
The SWS will be in charge of delivering work safely and will provide a clear point of leadership, something that Network Rail had found lacking following Saxilby.
As well as seeing the responsibilities of the COSS transferring to the SWS role, members were assured that the skills were also transferable and that there would be opportunities for retraining.
The events of 2012 are shaping Network Rail’s future procurement process as a whole. Safety factors will be more of a central issue when it awards £1.5 billion-worth of contingent labour contracts for CP5. Improvements have since been introduced into the planning process as well. E-planning tools, which are currently being trialled in Romford, feature new interactive maps which display live work sites across the UK.
Another role of ARTP is to represent the voice of training organisations to the National Skills Academy for Rail Engineering (NSARE). The recent introduction of a User Group allows for training organisations to be involved in discussions on the review of current initiatives and the development of new rules for training accreditation.
Now reaching the end of its third year, NSARE has to prove that it can support itself financially. The organisation is currently presenting a business plan to its board, but NSARE’s benefit to ARTP members, and the industry as a whole, was an area for debate.
As a result of reviewing the RTAS rules, Network Rail and NSARE are currently reviewing the requirement for trainer qualifications for Level 3. Although
nothing has been confirmed, training providers are being encouraged to up-skill their trainers to Level 4 qualifications. The concern is that experienced trainers approaching the end of their careers could opt for early retirement rather than undertaking such a major commitment. The message from ARTP members is that providers would rather have the freedom to choose the option they feel is best for their trainers, knowing their individual strengths and weaknesses.
Trainers also face a challenge in the form of E-learning. They are adapting to an increasing amount of digital course material and a smoother integration of technology into the learning process. Jeremy Miles from E-learning specialists, GP Strategies, discussed how technology can change the way training is delivered, combining the benefits of face-to-face courses and on-the-job learning.
In December 2013, Network Rail introduced Sentinel 2, its new ID system, to a mild fanfare. The cards allow site managers to access up-to-date digital records of competencies just by scanning a QR code with their phone. Although the potential benefits are clear, the system has experienced its glitches so far, with several concerns raised by members about issues with the inputting of new and transfer of old data.
The association’s policy support officer, Sylvia Franklin, is the intermediary who has sought to resolve some of these technical issues alongside her role, providing a vital link between members and the ARTP’s board.
Sylvia believes that members can see the potential of the new system but, as with anything new, there was a fear of the unknown.
‘We’d been fully briefed by Network Rail about what the card could do but due to the wide variety of combination of competencies transferred from the old system to the new Sentinel, which could not have been anticipated, this is where the problems have been identified,’ said Sylvia. ‘With the introduction of any scheme there are teething issues, but the training providers have been able to provide support to clients, Network Rail and Mitie in solving some of the issues with the transition.’
Network Rail has said it plans to introduce more updates to the system between April and May. It also now has funding for the next phase of the programme, which will focus on introducing a
site access element to the system, and is working alongside London Underground to see how Sentinel can be adopted by the capital’s metro network.
Moving into CP5, the challenge of meeting the ‘skills shortage’ is being discussed on a daily basis. Training providers are not only dealing with changes in the way training is delivered, they’re having to consider how they are going to help Network Rail and its contractors develop the skills needed to deliver a busy programme of major projects over the next five years.
Gail added, ‘With significant changes in promoting safety culture and learning and development programmes, the ARTP will be part of these developments and changes. Our members take an active role in not only supporting existing members but they actively embrace and welcome being part of special interest groups working on new initiatives.’