There has been much talk of collaboration in the industry in recent years and, while there are some great examples of where this has worked well, it’s likely there is more that could be achieved. Of course, collaboration can take many forms; from a couple of mates getting together to share and develop ideas, to complex joint ventures and a variety of business models in between.
Rail Forum Midlands (RFM) supports its members in a variety of ways, helping them to work collaboratively has been a key focus for some time. Established over 20 years ago to represent the local supply chain, RFM is still owned and governed by its members who work collaboratively to set the direction and strategy of the organisation.
Elaine Clark, general manager of RFM, said: “By working together, we can help members address issues that they couldn’t tackle or solve on their own. For example, in 2016 we brought a number of companies together to create a Rail Skills and Employment Academy with Derby College. Those involved support full-time students in a variety of ways, helping to raise the profile of rail as a career.
“We have also developed our hugely successful schools engagement programme iRail, which is now approaching its 10th year, having recently expanded to cover both West and East Midlands schools. Companies can take part in an outreach day at a school or they can sponsor and support the iRail competition day, which brings teams from all the schools together to compete in a rail-related technical challenge.
“Importantly, SMEs can get involved to a level they are comfortable with, enabling them to both contribute and demonstrate to their clients that they are actively supporting the skills agenda – something that Network Rail, HS2 and OEMs are all keen to see. We have also recently started to work on the concept of shared apprenticeships to identify how we can help more SMEs get involved with the apprenticeship agenda.”
Collaboration works on a community level too. “By bringing our members together to support their local communities, we can demonstrate that rail is a force for good,” said Sophia Blakey, membership co-ordinator at the Forum. “For example, we usually hold a charity event each year to raise funds for a worthy cause. This year, we raised over £2,500 for Railway Children and are also supporting the Midlands’ Mission Christmas appeal which provides Christmas gifts for children that otherwise wouldn’t receive any. This means even a tiny SME can say ‘we helped do that – we made a difference by being part of something bigger’.”
Another, perhaps obvious, example of the potential benefits of collaboration is sharing costs; the Rail Forum will be hosting a joint stand for SMEs at Railtex in 2019. “We did this in 2017 with four of our members and it was hugely successful, we’re now planning an even bigger presence next year,” said Sophia.
But why bother? “Fundamentally it’s about growing your business”, said Elaine. “It’s not just about a feel-good factor; there has to be real business benefit. We will shortly be launching a new SME collaboration project with the objective of identifying specific opportunities for SMEs to collaborate, to address real needs across the industry.
“We have a very strong rail industry presence in the Midlands – a presence that’s evolving with new businesses emerging alongside traditional manufacturers. We also have a plethora of automotive and aerospace companies that may have something to offer rail or that could benefit their sectors by working with our members. Collaboration can open up new opportunities for those companies that are willing to work together.”
For more information about Rail Forum Midlands contact [email protected]
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