Train drivers jump on NVQs
A train was set in motion when a government minister castigated the rail industry for its poor uptake of NVQs.
Across the entire rail network only 24 drivers had achieved an NVQ level two, the nationally recognised vocational qualification denoting they were competent to do their job.
That statement by Malcolm Wicks, then minister for lifelong learning, sent shockwaves surging through London Underground. When it looked at its workforce it discovered that only one of their 3,500 train drivers actually possessed a relevant NVQ.
Less than four years later the picture is very different. At the latest count 2,751 of the London Underground's 10,000 train drivers, signal operators, and station staff have been accredited with the qualification.
By the end of the year, the figure should exceed 5,000.
This training transformation is the result of the tube's partnership with Barnet college in north London and a private training provider, Four Counties Training. The programme covers City amp; Guilds qualifications in train driving, signal operations and passenger service.
For many of the tube's staff, achieving the NVQ level two in rail transport operations is the first national qualification they have obtained in their lives, and the pride they take in receiving it is often tangible.
"What we discovered is that our train drivers who got the NVQ saw themselves as more professional," Iain Smith, London Underground's head of engineering and technical skills, said.
"Previously our drivers were safe and we had good systems of checks, but they were not nationally accredited schemes."
He added: "The NVQ programme has brought huge business benefits. Our drivers are better qualified and safer and the travelling public is getting a better railway."
Chris Brandreth, the commercial director of Four Counties Training, said:
"The rail industry was extremely slow to engage with NVQs. All it has to do is prove to the health and safety executive that it employs competent staff.
"There was an awful lot of training that was already done. Everyone goes through an entry programme that mixes off-the-job, classroom-based and simulator training."
But the statement from the minister brought about a change in the way the Underground dealt with the competence of their staff, and new processes were established.
Mr Smith added: "Our starting point was the need to improve our drivers'
skills, and we introduced a new system that was compatible with an NVQ qualification.
We embarked on the largest NVQ programme in the rail industry."
Staff are not required to take the NVQ, but are asked if they want to be assessed.
Mr Smith said: "Some drivers decide they do not want to be assessed. But the uptake is increasing. When staff take the certificates back to their depots, it inspires their colleagues."
One addition to the staff training that was not in place before the NVQ was introduced in January last year is the customer service element. Now all drivers are assessed on the quality of the announcements they make to passengers. A separate NVQ in customer service is now under consideration.
Security training, particularly in the light of the recent bombings in Madrid, is also an important part of the training, but it is not part of the NVQ requirement.
Train and station staff are trained in the Underground's HOT procedure - Hidden, is it Obviously suspicious, or is it Typical of, for example, left luggage.
Mr Smith added: "The recent events in Madrid have underlined the fact that transport systems, particularly urban metros, are a target for terrorists.
"London Underground is one of the transport world leaders in combating the threat from terrorism."
Dave Tabernacle, the director of learning at Barnet college, said the NVQ programme it set up for the London Underground has been so successful the college is now applying for Centre of Vocational Excellence status in rail and transportation.
He said: "Working with the rail industry is a key feature of the college's strategic plan and builds on other successful work delivered for the rail industry."
Bill Blissett (pictured left), a driver on the Piccadilly line, said on receiving his NVQ certificate: "I have always known that I could do my job but now I have a qualification to prove it. Completing the course has definitely made me feel more confident about my abilities."