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Careers: Training for tracks

Supporting London mayor Boris Johnson’s skills agenda and helping deliver a sustainable future for the railway industry, specialist contractor Cleshar is launching a training academy with a difference. Mark Hansford reports.

As a specialist rail contractor with a particular focus on working in the constrained environment that is the London Underground, Cleshar has very specific needs when it comes to its 1,600-strong workforce.

So specific, in fact, that it has taken matters into its own hands and created the Cleshar Academy, a purpose built training facility to accommodate all in-house training and development programmes and, critically, facilitate its Apprenticeship Programme.

Designed to provide an inclusive, engaging and dynamic space for learning and development, it is supported by trackwork training facilities including the replication of a London Underground tunnel and rail welding training area.

Tube work training

Tunnel training: Cleshar trainees practise track work in a mock up of a rail tunnel

The firm is rightly proud of it. “Ours is a people company,” states Tricia O’Neill who is chief executive of Cleshar parent company CCS Group. “And the continued success of it is reliant on the capabilities, competencies and calibre of our workforce.

“We are committed to - and passionate about - investing in the future by providing this generation - and the next - the academic and manual skills and competencies required to work and succeed in the rail industry,” she says.
The company has always been committed to training. Since the company was formed in the early 1990s it has provided its people with the requisite safety and skills training and sponsored and supported further education.

In 2004 it formed ITS - its dedicated training company. And it was the first company anywhere to attain accreditation to supply London Underground safety courses. A few years on it gained similar accreditation to provide training to Network Rail. More recently, with a view to continuously improve and develop, it has embellished its basic training and skills courses with behavioural safety, leadership, competency and apprenticeship programmes.

“We can only deal with skills shortage by increasing the overall pool”

Tricia O’Neill, CCS

The academy is now the final piece of the jigsaw, effectively providing an all-encompassing framework for all educational, developmental and training needs within its business.

“One of the major challenges facing our industry today is dealing with the skills shortages. There is only a finite number of individuals with the required skills to work on the rail infrastructure. There is only a finite number of handbacks, welders, skilled platelayers - I could go on and on,” says O’Neill.

“Our solution to this problem is simple - recruit, train and retain. We can only deal with skills shortage by increasing the overall pool. We can only fill the gaps caused by retirement by recruiting the next generation,” she says.

There is genuine strength of feeling here, and O’Neill is passionate that others follow Cleshar’s lead.

“We feel strongly that it is incumbent on every contracting company privileged enough to work in the rail industry to provide training schemes for their own workforces,” she asserts.

“By recruiting, training and promoting individuals irrespective of their race, religion or sex we can ensure that our company is representative of the diverse city we serve,” she says. “At Cleshar we believe that planning for the future is better than planning for the present and this means making conscious decisions in terms of investing time and resources.”

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