Training for trains

Training for trains

A new centre to teach the engineering skills needed by the rail industry has opened in the North East and has been widely welcomed, as we report.

Newcastle College has developed a multi-million pound training facility for the rail industry, the first of its kind in the country.

The Rail Academy has been developed in partnership with employers and the National Skills Academy for Rail Engineering (NSARE) in response to the rail industry fast approaching a crisis in the demand for skills, with 25,000 skilled staff due to retire over the next 10 years and 1,000 in the North East by 2018.

The Government’s plan to make the biggest investment in rail infrastructure for the last 150 years has led to massive upgrading and expansion plans across the UK network on an unprecedented scale. As a result there is a huge demand for new employees.

At the helm of the Rail Academy is its new head of rail, Marc McPake, who has more than 13 years’ experience in the industry. He says: “Through the development of the Rail Academy, we are supporting the rail industry in building the solid foundations needed to ensure that there is a pipeline of highly skilled technicians now and in the future.

Working with industry partners, we know the skills required to support a 21st century rail infrastructure and this facility will be able to support that future.”

The new Rail Academy contains real working environments dedicated to rail infrastructure, particularly for signalling, telecommunications, electrification and plant and track.

Training resources and equipment include:

  • Full indoor and outdoor OHLE;
  • Fully operating S&C and S&T equipment;
  • Multiple P-way set-ups;
  • Latest electronic and PLC testing and monitoring equipment.

McPake adds: “What’s so unique about our proposition is that we take a different approach. We don’t just offer qualifications, we offer the technical skills required by industry and the opportunity to develop a solid career in the rail engineering sector. The Rail Academy has been designed to recreate a real life functioning rail environment within the confines of a safe training facility.

“The opening of the rail academy signifies the start of a new era in training for the next generation of rail engineers and technicians. I believe that what we have here is unique. We are helping to develop the skills that are needed by industry today, but also creating a pipeline of skilled people with the knowledge of the state-of-the-art equipment that we will see in the rail industry in the future.’’

The Academy is not just for young people looking to come in at entry level, the centre also offers training for those already working in rail or engineering.

Rapid advances and developments in rail technology create ever expanding opportunities for development and career progression. Working with industry, one of the academy’s key aims is for employers to influence its curriculum. Eventually the range of training solutions available will include rail apprenticeships, short courses for CPD, and higher education qualifications.

McPake says: “The Government is investing millions in our rail infrastructure and we are seeing massive innovations in rail engineering that must be underpinned by high level skills and training.

We know that there is a huge demand for skilled workers and we must use this opportunity to inspire the next generation of rail engineers as well as support employers to develop their existing workforce.

“The Rail Academy is a great example of collaboration between industry and education. It’s important that everything we do is focused around the needs of employers as that is what will help us secure the future of rail engineering in the North East and create job opportunities for more and more local people every year.”

NSARE’s chief executive Gil Howarth, says: “NSARE is proud to support this excellent initiative which will provide a centre of excellence for railway engineering training in the North East. 

“It is vital that we attract young people into our buoyant industry – we need a highly competent workforce to support record levels of investment.”

Jackie Judge, workforce development manager – LNE North, at Network Rail, says: “Network Rail fully supports Newcastle College’s vision to develop the next generation of railway engineers and welcomes the college’s investment.

We believe this facility will contribute to the capacity of skilled workers required to deliver the significant investment which we are carrying out to meet continued increasing demand for rail services.

“We will work alongside the college to shape the curriculum, advise on the technology and facilities and provide links to our regional network hub in York. Industry developments and best practice will be exchanged to help to make sure that the academy delivers high quality candidates capable of supporting the next era of rail investment.”

The Business Secretary Vince Cable also welcomes the new centre. “The Rail Academy is an important initiative that will support the Government’s investment in the future of the UK’s rail infrastructure,’’ he says.

“Developing specialist training and skills is vital in creating the next generation of rail engineers and will provide opportunities for thousands of young people to develop careers in this growing sector. I would like to congratulate Newcastle College on this outstanding facility and wish all of the students every success in the future.”

The Rail Academy is based just off the Felling by-pass, in Gateshead, near to Felling and Heworth Metro stations.