The Coronavirus pandemic has been a gamechanger for everyone in society, with the training industry – like many others – working hard to remain agile, responsive, and adapt operations to ensure continuity.
Our reliance on the rail network and its infrastructure has meant that, even in lockdown, services were still a vital function. And as the Government and organisations look ahead to a point in time when coronavirus has significantly less bearing on our lives, both are keen to continue progressing major projects which will see our country become even better connected through the power of rail.
That’s why it was essential that, here at Morson Training, we were able to adapt our rail apprenticeship programme throughout 2020 to ensure the existing cohort – and those who were set to join us during the year – could continue their onsite and e-learning programmes of work, and achieve their ambitions of being the next generation of rail talent.
For six years, Morson Training has offered Level 2 apprenticeships in rail engineering at our training centre in Salford and two offices in London. Taking on new groups in January and September, we have the capacity to add at least 50 new apprentices to our programme. We reach candidates via social media as well as traditional job boards and put them through our usual recruitment process before they begin their intensive training programme. Alongside their City & Guilds qualifications, apprentices also undertake training in manual handling, emergency first aid, personal track safety, track induction and small plant tools, ensuring they are ready to be dispatched to the branch within six weeks.
Though there is a general skills shortage across the wider construction industry, there is no lack of young people coming forward for the opportunities we make available in rail. It’s a recession-proof field that offers a wealth of opportunity – to upskill, climb the career ladder, earn a comfortable salary, travel the country and work with some of the world’s leading engineering firms. When we advertised a new round of vacancies at the beginning of 2020, we had more than 200 queries in just 24 hours.
At that point, we didn’t know what was heading to our shores. COVID19 took hold in the UK and put a stop to normal ways of working – apprenticeships included. We were forced to quickly adapt our training programme, because trains still need to run, and lines still need to be maintained – and apprentices play a key role in this continuity of operations.
Within a matter of days, we had migrated our apprentices from our Manchester classrooms to spacious offices which were adapted for socially distanced learning. In London, we used our partnerships with colleges – which were forced to close – to occupy much larger spaces which could protect our people from transmitting and catching the virus.
Teaching sessions moved to Zoom or Teams, where possible, so we ensured every apprentice was armed with the technology and equipment they needed to remain connected. The typical syllabus was slightly updated in line with the changes we needed to make, but we are proud to say that our apprenticeship programme continued to go ahead, with our engineers able to complete their learning on time, without impact to their results.
A career in rail tends to be a job for life, because of the many new doors it opens. You might opt to become an operative, to work in signalling, to move into the technological elements of engineering or move into a white-collar position. It’s an industry which requires specialist skillsets and training, the likes of which we instil in our apprentices from their very first day with us.
There’s much discussion about how young people may be affected in the very long term by the impact of the Coronavirus. But that’s why apprenticeships – particularly those in rail – remain a vital part of society, the economy and the education infrastructure. They truly do change lives. And thanks to advances in technology, our apprenticeships and the support we provide are unchanged. Yes, lessons might be delivered slightly differently and yes, there might be new safety measures in place, but we are committed to providing the rail industry with the next generation of talent, so we – and other apprenticeship providers – will continue pulling out all the stops to ensure that young people can continue to achieve their goals.
That’s because, as a leading supplier of talent to the rail industry, we are relied upon to deliver the infrastructure that the future of our country will come to rely on. And who is better to do that, than the future of the country themselves?