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RailStaff Awards: People – our number one priority

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A business is only as strong as its people. “It’s an old cliche but I fully believe in it,” said Steve McLaren, managing director UK and Ireland for Fenix Rail Systems, sponsors of the Train Driver of the Year category this year.

“You have to look after your staff,” said Steve. “I fully believe that. Variation of work, training, actually helping people improve themselves.”

Invest in skills

That message is never more applicable than at the end of a control period, where many businesses are looking at how they can invest in their organisations, and their staff, to ensure they are best placed when new programmes of work go live.

Fenix, which specialises in the design, installation and testing of signalling systems, is looking at how it can forge new partnerships with other small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to bid for upcoming multi-discipline design frameworks. The business is also pursuing previously untapped markets with its depot control system solution.

But Fenix, like many other businesses in the sector, knows it needs to play its part in an industry-wide skills upgrade to deliver the level of investment that is planned for CP6. Steve, who joined the business earlier this year, said he had completed a company-wide review of its staff to identify professional development opportunities. As a result, two young signalling engineers have been enrolled on university degrees to hone their skills.

Steve said: “When there was a lot of workload in the first three years of CP5 for signalling there was a very large skills shortage to deliver the work and, as we approach CP6, that skills shortage is potentially going to be bigger if we don’t do something.”

He added: “We need to fast-track the people who are already in the industry to move to the next level, so we need to retain them and obviously bring in more apprentices and trainees by working with the client and with universities.”

Although the industry is facing a massive skills shortfall, Steve believes that by working in a more coordinated way, rail businesses can make the necessary investment. “We’ve got to be positive and look at it in a different way.”

Vastly experienced

Northern’s Colin Newton was bemused after winning last year’s Train Driver of the Year award. He had left his cab to attend to a passenger who had been taken ill on his train, checking they were ok and performing CPR. As far as Colin was concerned, he was just doing what he’s paid to do.

“These people are vastly experienced,” said Steve, explaining why train drivers deserve recognition for the hours they spend at the footplate.

“As we fit more new technology on trains – more in-cab new technology – the train drivers are going to become even more important from a signalling point of view because the signalling will be train controlled and a lot less trackside involvement.”

Celebrating success

2018 has been a year of international expansion for Fenix, which has established bases in Bangkok and Sydney.

Steve said he wants Fenix to be a company where people choose to come. Investing in skills and celebrating the best the industry has to offer is one way to achieve this.

“Whatever job you do whether it’s the railway or any other sector, the staff are the number one priority and always will be to me,“ said Steve.

“Obviously we need to address areas we need to improve… and doing things differently, collectively as an industry to improve, but we need to celebrate the successes more.”

To nominate your Train Driver of the Year, visit www.railstaffawards.com/nominate.

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