A training academy which sees itself playing a pivotal role in finally grasping the rail industry’s skills challenge is set to open in October. RailStaff’s Marc Johnson travelled to Northampton to find out exactly how the National Training Academy for Rail (NTAR) plans to be a game changer.
Set back from Siemens’ Kings Heath depot, within sight of the Northampton loop of the West Coast Main Line, is a new training academy for the industry.
The National Training Academy for Rail (NTAR) is the result of a significant investment by the National Skills Academy for Railway Engineering (NSARE) and Siemens, both of which contributed half of the £7 million start- up cost. Through the partnership half of the centre’s training capacity will be earmarked for Siemens and half will be released to the wider industry.
Focussing initially on addressing the need for traction and rolling stock (T&RS) skills, the facility includes classrooms, a large ‘dirty’ workshop and high tech ERTMS and virtual reality labs.
NTAR general manager Simon Rennie said the vision for NTAR goes beyond the single site at Kings Heath. Eventually NTAR will sit at the centre of a network of 20 colleges around the country.
With just a couple of months to go until the first delegates arrive, the academy is holding open days for stakeholders in an attempt to drum up interest in NTAR and demonstrate to the industry what it has to offer.
Says Simon, ‘To some degree it is a little bit like busking. You’re playing a nice tune, a crowd is gathered round, at some point we do have to send the hat round and see who puts their pound in and actually uses it.’
The facility, with its satellite colleges and professional partners, will support companies to deliver training which can be tailored to the needs of a specific business, bringing in specialist kit and adapting course content where needs be.
Simon and his colleagues believe the centre could eventually set the standard for training within the industry. To get to that point, NTAR immediately set out to establish ties with bodies like the IMechE and the Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education.
Says Simon, ‘The time it would take in an in-house organisation to acquire the expertise that our partners have built up over decades was simply not going to be feasible.
Collaboration and contribution
He added, ’What’s been a delight over the course of the nine months is the degree of collaboration and contribution that the vast majority of every organisation we’ve engaged with has made. Be that in terms of donations of equipment into the training hall, be that in terms of how we can develop courses, be that in terms of how we can gain access to stakeholders to formulate good offerings.’
Over the next 10 years, 8,200 new engineers are needed; this figure doesn’t take into account HS2, Crossrail or London Underground upgrade projects. Since 2012, the average age of the workforce has increased from 44 to 46. And under 25s make up just 1 per cent of the industry. If the UK can’t cultivate this future workforce, the result will be even greater recruitment from Europe and other industries, which both have their own skills challenges.
Simon outlined his hopes for NTAR in its first year. ‘It’s about being useful, relevant and busy. So if in six or 12 months time, I was walking around this building and that training hall was full of apprentices from different organisations, if local third parties were using the facilities upstairs, if different train operating companies or manufacturers were running their own courses but there was a vibrancy around the place which proved it was a well-respected and utilised facility, I would be delighted.’