Network Rail will join burger giant McDonalds and airline FlyBe in awarding 'Level 3' qualifications, which are equivalent to A-levels.
Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) approved the three firms to be part of their Qualifications and Credit Framework, which gives the organisations the authority to award qualifications. Once they have passed QCA accreditation, the firms will become awarding bodies themselves.
Network Rail will award its initial qualification in Track Engineering, focusing on technical competences, but also covering areas such as Health and Safety. Network Rail's 33,000-strong workforce will eventually be involved, plus agreed contractors and others in the rail sector.
Secretary of State for the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, John Denham, said: "By accrediting high quality in house training schemes we can recognise the value of company training. This is an important step towards ending the old divisions between company training schemes and national qualifications, something that should benefit both employers and employees."
Students taking the courses will be able to accumulate credits on various courses to achieve new qualifications, which could carry the same weight as A-levels, although Universities have said they are sceptical about the value of the new qualifications.
Network Rail's Chief Engineer, Professor Andrew McNaughton said: "Becoming accredited as an Awarding Body as part of the Qualification and Credit Framework is a unique step for Network Rail. The ability to award nationally recognised, transferable qualifications will enable us to keep on setting industry standards for technical rail skills training in the UK and attract and develop highly trained and motivated people."
Dr Ken Boston, QCA's Chief Executive said: "I am pleased to announce that Network Rail is one of the first three companies to gain QCA accreditation for its work-related courses. The commitment to training shown by these ground breaking companies supports their employees in gaining vital skills. This will not only benefit business planning but recognises the role the workplace plays as a learning environment."