August 12th 2008
Rail entrepreneur Pete Waterman is leading calls for the establishment of an employer-led National Railway Skills Academy.
‘We need a thorough-going national railway apprenticeship scheme,’ says Pete. ‘Too many schemes are light weight, paper-based and impracticable. We need people who understand everything about railways from ballast and embankments to overhead catenary and computing. And we need it now.’
Surge in demand
Waterman’s call comes as infrastructure companies square up to the surge in demand this summer for more railway engineers and technicians. With work on Crossrail expected to start early next year and projects on Thameslink and the London Underground forging ahead, Britain’s acute skills shortage could seriously hamper the UK’s fast expanding rail industry.
Ambitious rail projects overseas from Dubai to Dublin soak up the international rail skills base causing further headaches for rail chiefs.
Gordon Brown meeting
‘A high-profile national railway skills apprenticeship scheme run by and for railway employers that gets young people building a worthwhile career anywhere in the railway industry has to be good for all of us,’ says Pete.
Recently Waterman met Gordon Brown and put his idea to the prime minister, urging government backing for the scheme. ‘It‘s no good pumping money into quangos and agencies, I told him. We need a national nuts and bolts scheme run by us, the employers, for the good of the whole industry.’
Waterman speaks from experience. The one time locomotive fireman is also chairman of the London and North Western Railway Company based in Crewe. LNWR maintains Class 86 and Class 90 locomotives for Freightliner and Voyagers for Bombardier Transportation. With more business piling up LNWR needs skilled engineers to cope with demand.
‘The staff just aren’t there,’ says Pete. ‘That’s why we want to create the National Railway Skills Academy. This will provide detailed and thorough railway apprenticeships at three levels of entry: First for school leavers aged sixteen who have just completed GCSEs. Secondly for graduates fresh from university looking for a career with plenty of different opportunities. Thirdly for non-academic folk looking to develop a solid rewarding career in one of Britain’s most vibrant industries. The NRSA will have schools in Derby, York, Crewe and London.’
We need a national scheme
The NRSA will complement existing schemes; LNWR itself runs apprenticeships at Crewe. ‘Companies like Network Rail and Tube Lines have excellent apprenticeship schemes but we need a national scheme that attracts people to the industry generally.’
‘Working in railways is hard, I know from experience. There’s lots to learn, miles to travel and you’re working all sorts of hours. You won’t pick it all up on a two week familiarisation course. A good apprenticeship deepens and expands the body of knowledge acquired.’
Stable, secure, well paid and worthwhile
‘A career in railways offers endless variety, all sorts of different challenges and yet it is stable, secure, well paid and worthwhile. Who wants to be a nine-to-fiver anyway? The railway is a growing industry which is itself working hard to keep valued staff and develop people potential.’
The National Railway Skills Academy marks a turning point in the development of new railway staff, equipping the industry for the changes and expansion that lies ahead. ‘Together we can build something durable and concrete rather than just papering over the cracks in the plaster,’ says Pete who will be talking more about the National Railway Skills Academy when he introduces the RailStaff Awards 2008 at the International Convention Centre in Birmingham on 1st November.