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Laying career foundations

Working lives Rail

Network Rail is about to start growing its own engineers via a two year foundation degree course.

Education costs money; more and more money these days.

So what better way to persuade numerate young people to take up a career in engineering than to provide them with sponsorship and paid work experience while they are studying.

That is the theory behind Network Rail's new earn and learn foundation degree in railway engineering developed with other industry partners, principally its infrastructure maintenance contractors. Students are now being sought to start the first course at Sheffield Hallam University in September.

Network Rail estimates it needs to recruit 600 new engineers every year to carry out its projected workload.

The company has increased its graduate intake and is running a series of conversion courses that puts already highly qualified engineers from other disciplines through an intensive training programme to turn them into competent rail engineers. But this is not enough and Network Rail realised that additional routes to the industry were required.

The Sheffield Hallam course - claimed to be the first of its kind in the UK - is the result. Network Rail is hoping it can deliver 'a step change' in the way that rail engineers are developed.

Foundation degrees are a government initiative, launched in 2001. They are intermediate, vocational qualifications similar to HNDs and Network Rail felt they were a good way to help plug the skills gap in the rail sector.

'It is clear there is a shortage of competent, hands-on engineers, ' says Network Rail's engineering career marketing manager Nigel Ward. 'We sat down with our industry partners and looked at how we could address this.'

Students on the course will study the basic engineering disciplines used across the rail industry in their first year. In the second year they can specialise in, for example, signalling, civil and track or electrical and plant engineering.

Civils modules include maths and engineering science, legislation and business studies. Students can also study geotechnics and drainage, railway structures, track engineering and project quality management.

In the first year students will spend six months at university followed by five months' placement with a rail company. They will be paid for the time they are working and sponsored for the time they are studying.

After successful completion of the foundation degree, students will be eligible to progress to a full rail based honours degree, also sponsored, which can be completed through a further 15 months of study and work experience.

'It is a new way of learning, but it is one we feel fits an industry need for practical, hands on engineers while providing an alternative for the student who doesn't want to undertake a purely academic course for four years, ' says Ward.

INFOPLUS For more on foundation degrees visit www. foundationdegree. org. uk For information on the Sheffield Hallam course visit www. shu. ac. uk/courses/rail For more about Network Rail visit www. networkrail.co.uk

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