Karl Jones, with a wealth of experience in the railway industry, realised that there was a need for a flexible organisation which could provide experienced qualified manpower at a moment’s notice. He founded KJ Rail in 2008, and since then has developed a multi-skilled workforce which can be deployed throughout the United Kingdom.

From the outset, developing every employee’s skills was at the core of the business. Staff are PTS licensed and every one holds five basic plant skills. With an emphasis on health & safety, KJ Rail experienced steady, sustainable growth and delivered over 300,000 man hours without incident in 2011 to a variety of clients.

Decline in skills

Finding that it was becoming more difficult to recruit skilled workers, KJ Rail conducted a survey. These investigations identified that the industry had approximately 10,000 fewer people qualified to work on the rail infrastructure than it had only two years before. This was partly attributed to a lack of investment within the supply chain, which has fundamentally led to a decline in skilled PTS competence within the rail infrastructure.

The response was to establish KJ Training Solutions and to build a bespoke training academy in Wigan.

At the same time, two new executives were brought in to manage the enlarged business. Chief executive officer Steve Sharkey, with a background in finance before he joined the rail industry in 2008, brought management expertise to the company while new managing director Paul Ellis has 35 years experience working for leading companies such as British Rail, Northern Track, Fastline, First Engineering / Babcock Rail and AmeyCOLAS. A highly respected individual, Paul has a reputation for always delivering and is looking to take and grow the business while being a great ambassador for KJ Rail.

First apprentices

The new training academy opened its doors to the first candidates in January 2012. The new facility boasts nine state-of-the-art training rooms and an IT suite. It has both an indoor and outdoor railway facility where trainees are able to familiarise themselves with rail tasks in a safe environment.

After three months in-house training and induction, apprentices interlace into existing work gangs. This exposure to very experienced trackmen and safety critical staff is vital as they continue learning their trade.

Six months later, KJ Rail now has more than 180 apprentices working on the Network Rail infrastructure, with a further 40 still undergoing training.

Once qualified, the new apprentices will join KJ Rail’s established pool of skilled staff which includes trackmen, COSS, Engineering Supervisors, Level Crossing Attendants, Picops and Hand Back Engineers. In total, KJ Rail has a substantial workforce, with 83% sole sponsorship who work solely for the company, a proportion that is much higher than for most labour suppliers.

Having tackled the training shortfall, KJ Rail’s next objective is to become a Flagship Preferred Supplier on the railway infrastructure. With a ready supply of multi-skilled staff, the company is now able to tailor its services to not only match but often exceed clients’ expectations.

However, management is well aware that the company’s reputation is only as good as its performance on the last shift. Therefore Paul Ellis is introducing a programme of continuous improvement and betterment as he endeavours to help staff to become “all that they can be”.

New innovations

KJ Rail has introduced a new “plant card”, looking a little like a PTS card, which is being rolled out within the business. The card will identify what additional skills or small plant certifications the individual holds. Thus any foreman or team leader can instantly recognise the skill-set of each member of his team, making the allocation of individual tasks quick, simple and safe.

So that both KJ Rail management and clients know where their work teams are at any time, the fleet of 20 vehicles are all fitted with trackers. This makes it possible for main contractors such as BAM Nuttall, Babcock Rail, Balfour Beatty Rail, AmeyCOLAS and Lundy Projects to know at what time a crew arrived on site, where they are, and when they departed.

From trainee to worker

KJ Training Solutions has taken almost 200 unemployed people, trained them up and then passed them onto KJ Rail to put them out to work, to the benefit of both themselves and the company. This training programme will continue, both at Wigan and at satellite branches up and down the country, to satisfy the continuing demand for trained staff.

Putting these newly qualified railway engineers together with existing experienced staff to build dynamic and flexible gangs has worked well. Local people are placed in local work wherever possible, as the reduced transport requirement will lower both the carbon footprint and reduce costs.

Which all benefits today’s railway.