Apprentices – securing the future of railway engineering skills
By Allan Macdonald,
Commercial product specialist, Semta.
These are exciting times for the rail industry. Vast infrastructure investment is set to take place over the coming years: Network Rail’s continued investment in track and stations, a Crossrail extension west of Reading, Transport for London pouring several billion into the London Underground network, and the Crossrail21 and HS2 projects2. This level of development is unprecedented in modern times and calls for a future-proofed workforce with the necessary skills, behaviours and qualifications to meet the demand for today and into the future.
As is the case for many these days, the rail industry is embarking on a digital transformation in order to provide a better service for its customers. As part of their Digital Rail Strategy3, Network Rail has announced new plans to phase out traditional signalling systems in favour of modern forms of signalling and train control. The reality is that, in its current state, two-thirds of the railway network’s signalling system needs to be replaced in the next 15 years. With the costs involved in conventional renewing predicted to rise exponentially over the next five years, this deliverability/affordability conundrum presents a challenge to the industry to seek new methods of working – hence the adoption of increased digitalisation. With a more modern approach and the introduction of digital technologies, Network Rail will be able to ‘replace conventional signalling systems at a lower whole life cost.
Network Rail’s Digital Railway Programme aims to support the industry with transforming the rail network for passengers, businesses, and freight operators, introducing modern signalling and train control technology to increase capacity, reduce delays, enhance safety and drive down costs. An example of the powerful capabilities associated with the introduction of the Digital Railway Programme is found in the management of in-cab signalling. In 2014–2015 alone, there were 16,228 signalling failures that were deemed ‘severe enough to affect a service4’. With the introduction of digital signalling, a lot of the trackside infrastructure issues are eradicated, enabling a higher level of information for drivers and a more practical method of working overall.
When any industry goes through a radical digital change, new skills become essential and, subsequently, new roles are created. The introduction of the Digital Railway Programme will bring with it a host of exciting new work opportunities for engineers both old and new. The potential to gain new skills through apprenticeships and gain accreditation for transferable skills is huge. To accommodate this need for new skills, training providers look to deliver new courses and curriculums. As the specialist skills partner and awarding organisation for rail industry engineering, this is where EAL comes in. Supporting this new skills requirement and recognising the assessment methodology of the new apprenticeship standards, EAL is now also an End-Point Assessment Organisation (EPAO) for the rail engineering apprenticeship standards at Levels 2, 3 and 4 offering a fully managed End-Point Assessment (EPA) service that ensures rail engineering apprentices are assessed in line with the standards and apprentice assessment plans that have been developed by the rail industry.
The EPA process is complex and can be confusing for apprentices, employers and training providers. The defined roles require a new way of working together to ensure that all the stages of the apprenticeship can be met so learners complete their apprenticeship in a timely way. EAL provides full support and guidance on every step of the apprenticeship assessment journey. Our new and fully dedicated EPA team ensures apprentices, training providers and employers are guided and kept up to date with what is required, when and by whom.
To find out more about our EAL’s rail qualifications and EPA services visit: www.eal.org.uk or give us a call on 01923 652400.
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