Apprenticeships: it’s time to get on board

Apprenticeships: it’s time to get on board image

There are plans to invest £25 billion to fund more than 200 projects in the rail in-dustry up until 2019. While this is great news given the severe skills shortage in the industry, it also poses a challenge regarding who is going to carry out the work.

A Report by the National Skills Academy for Railway Engineering (NSARE) for the ORR found there is a great need to replace a number of higher level qualified and experienced people who are expected to retire over the coming years.

Essentially, the industry is losing a lot of skilled staff, especially track workers. Between 1,600 and 2,000 new people are required for signalling and telecommunications, with more than 30 per cent of these needing to be qualified to at least technician level, and A further 1,000 new people are needed, for electrification and plant. With such significant numbers of people to find, What can the industry do? 

Creating Careers

Recruiting new workers is pivotal to long-term workforce planning. But to ensure people stay in the industry for many years - building on their skills and experience to help them progress in their profession - companies need to focus on creating careers rather than simply providing jobs.

Apprenticeship schemes are one way of achieving this. Although they are commonly associated with getting young people into a profession, they can also help people who have already worked in the industry for some years. Labour supply agency to the rail industry, Ganymede Solutions, has recently seen more than 50 individuals complete Level 2 diplomas in 

Railway Engineering through a pilot apprenticeship programme at its South Wales office. As well as being one of the largest rail apprentice schemes in the region, it is the only one on this scale to include both young apprentices and existing employees. The company has retained 85 per cent of its apprentices - 15 per cent higher than the national average - and the scheme has proved so successful it has led to the development of an annual apprenticeship scheme tat is being expanded throughout the UK, with 36 new young apprentices already recruited across three sites. 

One of the key factors to the success of the scheme - and hopefully the future success of the sector - is that it helps to develop existing employees. All members of the company’s workforce have personal programmes in place to plug any knowledge or skill gaps, ensuring they hold the relevant skills and training to work safely and effectively. 

Support from third parties

While apprenticeship programmes and training plans for staff are necessary to ensure the industry has enough skilled workers, companies need to find support from third parties to make sure their schemes are effective and sustainable. It can be a challenge to find a suitable partner who understands the unique nature of the rail industry and can help design a programme around these.

Ganymede worked in partnership with ARC Academy to implement its apprenticeship scheme. By working alongside the organisation which specialises in providing railway and construction apprenticeships, the company could be sure the content and delivery of the programme focused on establishing a motivated and long-term workforce.

From one-to-one mentoring to recognising the achievements of those who work particularly hard, the programme focused strongly on the wellbeing of the participants.

Develop and nurture

Not only do companies in the rail industry have a responsibility to help develop the skills, knowledge and experience of their workforce for the benefit of the individual employees and the business, they also have a responsibility to ensure the workforce is able to meet the demands of the industry.

Ganymede’s goal is to have all of its track operatives trained to hold a minimum of a Level 2 diploma in Railway Engineering, and it is also offering those capable to initially move onto Level 3, 4 and 5 further down the line. The plan is to help top performers be considered for roles within the management team, or be placed by its sister company, ATA Recruitment, into management positions within client or contractor organisations.

Mind the gap

Unless business act now, the skills shortage gap will pose a real problem for the industry. Some business, including Ganymede, are looking at bringing talent in from overseas to help solve the short-term challenge, but there needs to be a long-term solution.

Apprenticeship, training and development programmes can help to encourage young people into the sector and nurture the talent it already has.
With high levels of youth unemployment, increased costs to go to university and a lack of effective training schemes, such programmes are a real opportunity - not only for the rail industry, but for the country’s whole economy.

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