Privatised firms learn value of acting collectively

Jackie Chappell, chief executive of the Rail Industry Training Council, sees a significant future for colleges in rail training.

Colleges' strength, she believes, is in their understanding of quality assurance. "It's in the rigour and robustness of assessment, assessing key skills and the 'softer' skills, looking at whole-person development."

Colleges prepared to work flexibly, she said, had been most successful. They had accommodated shift patterns and the need to study at work - one college even worked through the summer holiday.

The national vocational qualification development project found that despite the rail industry splitting into different companies - each with their own training programmes - technical standards are very close to NVQ standards. The main gap is evidence collection, where the colleges could demonstrate their expertise. They spent a lot of time coaching and mentoring assessors and recording evidence about key skills.

After the fragmentation of privatisation, Ms Chappell says firms are acting together to get things done. "We need consistency. If companies have to deal with a college at each town along a 400-mile route, they need to know it's the same training."

But just as the railways are fragmented, so is finance for training. "The industry has no borders, but funding does," says Ms Chappell. Rail companies work across countries and across boundaries between local learning and skills councils . The result is that colleagues in Swansea and Bristol may find they cannot get the same training because the funding is approved by different bodies.

"Difficulty in accessing funds deters companies from doing NVQs," says Ms Chappell, who would like to see the Government put more money into vocational training. She believes colleges find it easier than industry to get funds, despite constraints on working with people who come from outside their areas.

As someone who started as a ticket inspector and worked her way up, she believes strongly in work-based learning. "I came late to professional qualifications, but my hard work has been well-recognised and rewarded in the industry. I'm trying now to give opportunities to other people." She knows there are many people like herself who thrive on gaining qualifications by proving they can do the job rather than examinations.

But no organisation can achieve this by itself. "We need to look more at people development for the future and we have to act now. Nobody can do it alone, we've got to do it in partnership."

And despite its difficulties, she sees the industry as a rewarding place to work. "I see youngsters come in as school-leavers and they become train drivers and trainers. We can't offer a job for life any more, but you can have a career for life."

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you