Network Rail apprentices

Apprentice to Fellowship scheme set to transform railway career opportunities

High-flying apprentices entering Britain's railway industry will in future have a clear pathway to achieving professional recognition, potentially right up to Fellowship of an appropriate engineering institution.

Skills Minister John Hayes launched the Apprentice to Fellowship scheme on 22 June at the first conference of the new National Skills Academy for Railway Engineering, which is owned by member organisations across the industry.

NSARE is working with the Engineering Council and all the professional engineering institutions (PEIs) with an interest in railway engineering through a policy group to develop progression paths that recognise the value of vocational as well as academic routes. It is the first time that all the Institutions have agreed to collaborate on an initiative like this.

The intention is that a panel of academics and industrialists, including training providers, will develop and refine an NSARE Qualification Matrix, mapping vocational qualifications to PEI membership criteria. This will be an iterative process to ensure that the end result meets the needs of all concerned.

When the document is approved, it will inform both the industry's training and development programmes and the PEIs' accreditation processes.

The engineering institutions will accredit the individual railway company programmes against UK SPEC standards for professional registration at the appropriate level.

The stated aims of the Apprentice to Fellowship initiative are to encourage recognition of apprenticeships as a credible and desirable career choice, to enable individuals to progress from apprenticeship through a range of vocational and academic routes coupled with demonstration of their competence, the removal of barriers ('glass ceilings') to those pursuing professional development through vocational routes, and to demonstrate the opportunity for such a collaborative approach to be replicated across other industries and professions.

Gil Howarth, chief executive of the Academy, commented: "The railway engineering sector needs to double the number of apprentices that it takes on each year from about 500 to 1000. To fulfil their potential, we must ensure that they have the opportunity to obtain the necessary qualifications to be able to progress right to the very top of their chosen profession. We will develop a common approach, in conjunction with employers, which will help and encourage those apprentices who are willing and able to progress through the various grades of engineering institution membership right through to Fellowship."

Michelle Richmond, the IET's director of membership and professional development, added: "We are all 100 per cent supportive of this. Professional registration is internationally recognised, and gives people the edge in skills transferability."

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