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Northern powerhouse turns apprenticeship hub

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‘This is the start. This is the start of your career… Set your own targets, set your own goals,’ said the Mayor of Doncaster, Ros Jones, directly addressing a new cohort of Intertrain apprentices.

On September 27, new and current apprentices were brought together at Intertrain’s Balby Court headquarters for a celebratory event entitled ‘Driving for Success’. Sixty-five new apprentices will complete placements with various companies in the Sheffield City Region. The event served to bring local employers together to demonstrate the role they are playing in achieving the UK’s skills strategy.

The group are the latest apprentices to be trained at the Balby Court Business Campus – the largest of Intertrain’s nine sites around the UK. The vast facility includes a 100-metre test track and 16 classrooms, which allows Intertrain to deliver a comprehensive training programme, ranging from courses in track safety, electrification and for becoming a machine/crane controller, among others.

Since Intertrain began offering apprenticeships, with the guidance and support of RNN Training, in 2011, more than 300 apprentices have gone on to gain qualifications, thanks to Intertrain’s experienced team of trainers, and are currently employed by agencies and contractors around the country, including the likes of Carillion, Babcock Rail, Ballycommon, Aspin Group, VolkerRail, Coyle and ISS Labour.

Intertrain’s managing director Keith Jessop said he hoped the open day would demonstrate to employers what the company had to offer. It was also a reminder to apprentices that ultimately the industry needs them to ‘come good’.


Tom Harty.

‘You’ll never have this opportunity again and you have to grasp it with both hands,’ said Brian Jebson, general manager of Carillion Rail Resourcing, in a similarly spirited rally cry. He too joined the railway as an apprentice following the decline of heavy industry in Sheffield during the early 1990s.

Carillion is one of the supporters of Intertrain’s apprenticeship programme. In recent years, the company has moved to directly employ more of its workforce and has committed in its budget to creating 150 apprenticeships in 2017. Its partnership with Intertrain in South Yorkshire is in addition to the company’s own technical apprenticeship programme. If successful, it’s an approach Carillion may adopt in other regions.

Speaking to RailStaff, Brian said, ‘Really it was how do we develop and grow a viable workforce for Carillion. For me, it’s about starting with young people and giving them that chance because that way we can mould them, we can mirror them in our image, we can give them the Carillion values.’

He went on, ‘We are looking to roll this model out in other parts of the country. We’ve a partner we’re looking to meet with in Wales and Scotland.

‘We have the work. We have the workforce to manage these people, so it’s only right to get people in.’


Two of the Carillion apprentices who spoke on the day included a former soldier and a chef. Tom Harty, who now works as a crane controller for TXM Plant having come through the apprenticeship scheme, used to be a boxer. Tom qualified for his crane controller license within just three years of starting his apprenticeship. ‘Keep your heads down lads; it’s all there for you,’ he told the group.

Andy Joy, managing director of Carillion Rail, was sat in the crowd as they spoke about their reasons for pursuing a career in the industry. ‘We all recognise that the future of the rail industry requires new talent and new people to be attracted into the industry and this is a fantastic example of providing that first step and entry into the rail industry.’

Much of the focus on apprenticeships has been on driving up numbers, but the way in which schemes are funded and delivered is fundamentally changing. Tim Gladman from RNN Training explained the move towards having independent end-point assessments for all apprentices and, significantly for employers, how the new apprenticeship levy will work.

Andy said Carillion should be in a good position to benefit from the levy. ‘The levy encourages you… Carillion are as well placed as anybody to draw down on that and looks to support the ongoing apprenticeship schemes; and not just apprentices in this environment but also to provide further development and structured learning for our existing employees who maybe want to retrain.’


Although slightly dejected at realising he had become one of those grey-haired managers he remembered seeing early in his career, Steve Welsh, senior programme manager at Babcock Rail, spoke about how he thought the ‘blue hats’ supplied through Intertrain had benefited the business, but acknowledged that their introduction hadn’t been without its challenges. Site managers working to demanding timescales crave a ready-made workforce and Steve said it had taken time to identify the best people to coach and counsel newcomers. ‘It doesn’t matter if they’re white or blue hats for me, it’s how enthusiastic they are,’ said Steve.

Brian Jebson (left) with Alex Pond.

Through labour supply agency First Structure, Steve is able to employ eager Intertrain apprentices, giving them the necessary experience to progress.

Alex Pond, managing director of First Structure, said that in order for the industry to address its ageing workforce it needed to bring in young, enthusiastic, skilled people. ‘For me the apprenticeship programme ticks every box.’

Jimmy Wilson, Ballycommon’s rail director, agrees, ‘We are happy to invest in apprentices because if they are mentored and supported correctly, then they offer real value to the business as well as improving their social and economic status.’

South Yorkshire is already a valuable contributor to rail’s training sector. It will gain international recognition with the opening of the National College for High Speed Rail in Doncaster next year, which will rely on providers like Intertrain for its ‘hub and spoke’ approach to work.

Doncaster’s reputation as a historic railway town was assured by Mallard and Flying Scotsman, but the training being delivered at Intertrain ensures the railway will be part of its future as well.