The office of Matthew Leavis, Morson Vital Training’s head of training, sits in the lower floors of Morson Group’s branch office on Ordsall Lane, just a couple of miles from their headquarters in Salford, Manchester.
An old mill building that the company recently refurbished and now occupies, the stone wall behind his desk is adorned with certificates of accreditations and assurances awarded to Morson Vital Training over the last few years. Among these names are the National Skills Academy for Rail (NSAR), Transport for London (TfL) and Qualsafe awards.
In the centre, pride of place, sits the latest acquisition – the industry’s first-ever platinum accolade indicating best in class from NSAR.
‘To lead a great team such as that within Morson to the highest possible award achieved during an assurance visit is amazing and very satisfying,’ says Matt of their latest accomplishment. ‘It’s been a two-year long journey and it’s a very personal one to me.’
ROUTES TO RAIL
Before that two-year journey began, Matt worked for over a decade at Network Rail as a workforce development specialist, taking a lead role within the organisation’s Kent training centre as a welding specialist and trainer. He recalls his formative days in the industry with a clear sense of gratitude and enthusiasm.
‘They [Network Rail] really gave me my start in the industry. I love training, I love competency management and I love being able to help people progress, develop and enhance their skillset. It’s a satisfying thing to show someone a skill and see them hone it and become better than the person who is teaching them.’
With the strains of travelling and staying away from his family taking their toll, he made the decision to leave Network Rail in 2012 to pursue a new opportunity – designing vocational qualifications and apprenticeships with the same high standards of quality he experienced within Network Rail. It’s a natural progression for Matt, with his own training setting the benchmark for what his plans were as the trainer.
‘The need for apprenticeship support is what really brought me to Morson. We see Network Rail as a shining light in the industry, and we have tried to embed and emulate their quality within MVT to suit this end and help bridge the growing skills gap in the North West.’ Hence, the division, which currently consists of five trainers, three assessors and two specialist associates, was born with the backing of the Morson Group senior management team.
To meet the needs of the growing industry and demands for the next generation of track engineers, Morson Vital Training (MVT) have worked hard to offer delivery of fully funded programmes and training opportunities, addressing the growing industry skills gap working in partnership with some of the best colleges throughout the UK. Its apprenticeship programme, launched in May 2015, has been very well received from both employers and awarding bodies, with the emphasis on quality of delivery and integration of modern technology to meet the ever-growing demand for technological competence in the industry today – and more importantly tomorrow.
‘One of the key objectives from the very beginning was to create a sustainable, high quality apprenticeship programme based on small numbers and high deployment rates. Since then, we’ve gone on to deliver 24 new apprentices on 12-month programmes throughout the UK.’
BEST IN CLASS
Morson Vital Training is making a name for itself in breaking new ground. Several of the accreditations and assurances that adorn the wall behind Matt are industry firsts. In March 2015, MVT became the only training provider outside of TfL to achieve a license to perform track safety training.
‘TfL does not license training providers, it’s not a process that happens. However, our recruitment arm Morson International provides a lot of workforce to them. We wanted to be their leading supplier and we felt there was a benefit in being able to deliver our own training, and they approved us to do so. It was a real feather in our cap and it shows how MVT fits into the wider group.’
The recent ‘Quality Assurance Panel’ award – the highest-ever awarded by the body of 11 industry experts chaired by Guy Wilmshurst-Smith and including key senior representatives from Transport for London, Network Rail, Crossrail and the project director from HS2 – is another first that is the icing on the cake for Matt and the team.
Particular praise was directed at the fact that the range and nature of the training and assessment provided aligns exactly with the medium and long-term needs of industry clients. Feedback from learners in the report confirmed that they have very high regard for the training provided. The report also makes reference to using prior experience to enrich the quality of the training, a statement which reflects the initial motivation for setting up MVT.
MVT has also looked elsewhere to develop talent. The company recently worked with HMP Thorn Cross to get inmates who have conducted rail training courses while in prison out on to the tracks during the last few months of their sentences, providing valuable experience opportunities.
Noticing that there was an industry norm of training rail engineers to be first aid trainers and believing this to be something that doesn’t necessarily align with their skillset, the team looked further afield into the ex-Forces community, paramedics, the fire service and other groups for whom first aid has been a more critical part of their roles. Consequently, all first aid training is provided by these communities.
‘We feel that it’s second to none in terms of quality. It’s not a big commercial part of what we do, but it all adds up to being part of embedding that quality within everything we do. And we’re assured by the leading awarding body for first aid.’ Matt gestures to the certificates on the wall.
EXPANSION AND BEYOND
Like the whole of Morson Group – whose almost 50 years of recruitment and design engineering expertise spreads across 11 sectors, including rail, aerospace, defence and marine – MVT has grown organically to suit client and candidate demands. When it became apparent that the appetite spread further than just the local region – and that the universal need for quality training and apprenticeships for the future has become more pressing – it expanded their division to Farnham and then acquired an external centre in Fratton, Portsmouth. The most recent expansion saw a satellite division set up in Chelmsford.
So what does the future hold for MVT? ‘We’re now looking at investing quite heavily in the South East, Aylesford. All of these opportunities and strategies are born out of the needs of the group and client needs.’
Making the business futureproof is also a key concern for the team, with the average age of their own trainers being well into their fifties. ‘It’s the elephant in the room,’ explains Matt. ‘We need the experience that age gives, but in the future we need to look at developing an integration process that brings the next generation of talent through and dedicates them to training from the very beginning and starts them on the path to being a trainer. We want to be able to give someone the experience that time provides, but do it in a more focussed way. You can get that experience by accident, but why can’t you implement a dedicated succession plan?”
This doesn’t just apply to candidates – there is definitely an inward focus too. With an emphasis on the future of competency management and delivery of training, MVT works in partnership with local colleges and invests heavily in progression, training their future assessors.
It’s clear this is only the start for Matt and his team. With his infectious dedication to the cause (he admits he’s lived and breathed MVT since its inception), the company is confident it will see its wall of certificates growing.
‘It’s always been difficult being the new kid on the block, but I consider ourselves to be a young and vibrant company that’s looking to challenge the norms and achieve the best they possibly can – we have that fire in our belly.’