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Tracking down engineers

YOUR CAREER - Rail training: Railtrack has created a course to transform engineers from varying disciplines into track engineers in just six months. Steve Turner finds out how.

The Hatfield crash in October 1999 and the subsequent panic revealed the appalling condition of the national rail network - the result of years of under investment.

Poor contractual relationships between Railtrack and its contractors, and a lack of appreciation by Railtrack of the value of engineers at all levels, were major contributing factors to the decline.

But things are changing, and the appointment of civil engineer John Armitt as chief executive, along with the promotion of a number of engineers to senior positions reflects the shift in attitude. Railtrack has at last realised that if the network is to become an efficient and financially viable concern, engineers are the key.

But this realisation has come at a time when the rail industry is suffering from a massive shortage of experienced engineers.

David Carrier, appointed by chief engineer Andrew McNaughton as head of engineering recruitment, estimates that the industry needs between 1,250 and 1,500 more engineers.

To reduce the effect of the shortfall, Railtrack is striving to improve efficiency, make greater use of technology and reduce 'man marking' by forging alliance contracts with its suppliers. Even so, more engineers are desperately needed.

Carrier explains that Railtrack is doubling its graduate intake this year from 20 to 40, but the benefit of this move will only be felt in the longer term.

In an attempt to fast track people on to site, a course has been established that within six months will give already qualified engineers the skills to get out and undertake inspections and supervisory work.

Railtrack is targeting engineers qualified to a minimum of HNC standard in other disciplines, such as civil, mechanical and chemical engineering.

Already 14 engineers, with between five and 25 years' experience, have been recruited, drawn by an attractive salary and a career which Carrier describes as 'full of potential with a guaranteed massive amount of work on offer long term'.

The engineers will train in groups of 10, each group starting a month apart. Railtrack hopes to train 30 this year alone.

The courses will be varied, with two months in the classroom, two months' practical and two months' work-based assignments. Participants will spend time in Railtrack zones with Railtrack's contractors, each week getting 'deeper and deeper', as Carrier puts it, into the intricacies of track technology.

He is convinced that the programme will produce track engineers who are better equipped than many recently qualified people, as no training of this type has existed since privatisation and the break up of British Rail.

'At Railtrack, we are 250 engineers short. So what chance has an up and coming engineer of spending adequate time with an experienced person. They are all too busy.'

A similar course is planned for signalling engineers later in the year, another area where shortages are hampering progress.

Carrier is also reviewing how Railtrack trains its graduates, something he feels is essential for both the company and individuals. 'We need them up the curve quicker, and young people want their own piece of action more quickly, so both will benefit.'

But it is not just Railtrack that needs to be taking such steps to reduce the shortage.

Contractors must follow suit.

Carrier wants to see them sending staff on similar courses and believes that seeing the Railtrack converts spending time with them may provide the necessary impetus.

Key points

The rail industry needs 1,250 to 1,500 more engineers

Railtrack is to double graduate intake

Six month course introduced lRailtrack is targeting engineers qualified to a minimum of HNC standard

Courses to include classes, practical and work based assignments

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