Crewe is not only a railway centre, but it also has a long history of engineering excellence with the Bentley Motors works and other smaller engineering specialists.

Crewe Municipal Building

Crewe Municipal Building

The town has also had a long history of rail training which has included: The Crewe Works Apprentice School, Webb House BRB Supervisory Training Centre and the Gresty Road Signalling and Telecommunications Centre. Now, Crewe is planned to be the home of the new Crewe Engineering and Design University Technical College (UTC) which Network Rail is partnering with other engineering companies.

Future difficulties
Employers are likely to face growing difficulty sourcing suitably qualified and experienced staff in the years to come. Within the larger engineering community, EngineeringUK, formally the Engineering and Technology Board, estimates that 1.8 million additional engineering jobs will be created by 2020. In order to meet the demand for skills, the sector needs to triple the number of apprenticeships on offer each year to 69,000.

The shortage of trained engineers and technicians to support the growing rail industry is well documented. Plans to invest over £38 billion in the Railway Upgrade Plan are at risk because the rail industry will face growing difficulty recruiting suitably qualified and experienced staff. Projects most at risk include electrification schemes, the introduction of large fleets of new trains, Northern Powerhouse, Thameslink, digital rail ETCS, Crossrail, the intercity express programme, HS2 and London Overground.

The age profile of people working within the industry is a particular concern. A report by the National Skills Academy for Rail (NSAR) for the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) stated: “Within the engineering workforce of some 84,500 involved in railway engineering-specific activities, 20 per cent are over the age of 55.”

Another worrying statistic was that less than five per cent are female.

The report identified that, while Network Rail accounts for the single biggest component of infrastructure spend, Transport for London, Crossrail and light rail schemes will contribute significant percentages, particularly in signalling and telecommunications and rolling stock procurement activity over the next decade. It also highlighted that there is a requirement to replace a number of higher-level qualified and experienced people who will retire over the coming years.

For S&T, it is forecasted that there is a need for between 1,600 and 2,000 new people in the next five years, with over 30 per cent being at technician level or above. For Electrification and Plant (E&P) the need is for around 1,000 new people, which is the equivalent of almost 30 per cent of the existing workforce. Of these, some 750 will be required as a direct result of the major electrification programs. While steps have been taken to put systems in place for maintenance and graduate personnel, there is now a particular need to train and develop design staff for all disciplines.

This year, Network Rail is looking to recruit 150 apprentices nationwide as it continues to deliver the Railway Upgrade Plan. More than 3,500 applications were received for the scheme, which was launched on 28 January.

At the same time, the Government announced its commitment to 30,000 apprenticeships across the transport sector over the course of this parliament as part of its Transport Skills strategy. The three-year Advanced Apprenticeship scheme offers young people over the age of 18 a chance to earn while they learn, while gaining valuable work experience, transferable skills and recognised qualifications along the way.

In order to increase, in particular, the number of engineering design staff, Network Rail reviewed the various schemes already in place. While the new high-speed-rail engineering colleges, NSAR in Milton Keynes and the National Training Academy for Rail (NTAR) in Northampton are excellent initiatives, they won’t directly help Network Rail and other rail companies in the North West to fill their rail systems design capability gap, particularly for the Northern Powerhouse programmes.

Crewe Engineering and Design UTC
UTCs are funded by the Government, non-selective, designed to enrol students aged 14-18 and are free to attend. They have a university and employers as sponsors, and are supported by the local council.

The UTCs are designed to offer technically oriented courses of study, combining national curriculum requirements along with technical and vocational elements as well as subjects such as business skills and the use of ICT. They offer routes into higher education or further learning in work. The study day is longer than in a typical school and is more in line with a commercial working day.

The Crewe Centre will aspire to form the core systems design training centre of choice for the industry. The facility will be designed to integrate training at all levels in a location that is historically associated with the rail industry.

The centre will capture the combined knowledge of such companies as Bentley, Siemens, GE and Bosch which have been involved in dual education systems which drive engineering, design and manufacturing success in other countries. In addition, Network Rail and OSL Rail will provide links to the rail industry while Chevron, Unipart Logistics, Optical 3D, Leoni and James Walker will

Suzanne Mathieson - Network Rail

Suzanne Mathieson – Network Rail

add specialist knowledge from their industries.

This will result in a range of different pathways, career opportunities and learning experiences for the students. Employers will demonstrate how theoretical concepts have very real and exciting practical applications and the range of roles this opens to students.

The Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) will support the continuous personal development (CPD) of teaching staff. The partnership between the UTC, industry, and MMU is key to ensuring a good balance between academic knowledge and the real-life skills required to progress into higher education or employment. MMU will also assist the UTC by supporting curriculum development mapped into clear progression routes.

Cheshire East Council is also providing support to Crewe Engineering and Design UTC as a core part of its education offering in the area.

So why Crewe?
Within the area there are already initiatives to deliver engineering skills development. Bentley Motors has sponsored a major programme at South Cheshire College for the development of its new Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) and another college, Reaseheath near Nantwich, has 650 engineering students and is sponsored by JCB.

The Grand Junction Railway (GJR) chose Crewe as the site for its locomotive works and railway station in the late 1830s as it was in the centre of its network. The central location of Crewe – it is less than an hour away from Manchester and Birmingham and only 35 minutes longer from London by train – and the adjacent M6 make it an ideal location for transport links. During the early part of my career I was an instructor at the Crewe S&T Training Centre and it was not unknown to have students from Euston, Derby and Carlisle – all travelling daily and on the same course.

The development of an HS2 Superhub at Crewe will create growth and generate up to 40,000-60,000 jobs, providing a substantial boost to the local economy. It will also stimulate growth and investment across the sub-region and beyond.

The All Change for Crewe Partnership Board, comprising key private and public sector partners, is committed to realising the substantial potential within Crewe and has made five key commitments to the locality: a World Class Automotive and Rail Hub, a Market Leader in Renewable Energy, Connecting Crewe, Achievable and Sustainable Growth and a UK Centre of Excellence for Employer Led Skills.

Network Rail has been working with Cheshire East Council to support the forming of a Rail Skills Board for Crewe. The town is a gold mine of multiple colleges and universities, such as MMU, wishing to get into rail education. There is the opportunity for support from the multiple and growing number of rail companies in the town and a Council that wants to champion the true rail heritage of the area to develop a highly skilled workforce that employers are demanding. The decision to form the board was supported by a detailed report undertaken by Jacobs.

The Rail Skills Board meets every six weeks or so with the aim of supporting the colleges and universities in developing courses which meet the rail industry’s needs. As well as Network Rail, OSL Rail is part of the board and other well-known local railway companies including Bombardier and Atkins are involved.

Terri Steel - Morgan Sindall

Terri Steel – Morgan Sindall

A number of locations were evaluated and it has been decided to build the college on the former Victoria Centre site very close to the town centre. The new Crewe UTC has been granted planning permission and construction of the £10.6 million centre began in January 2016 ready to accept students from September 2016.

David Terry, principal of Crewe Engineering and Design UTC, said: “The strength of demand for the UTC from the local area is very strong. We’ve seen that at our open days, where hundreds of students and parents have attended, allowing us to share our vision for the future.”

It is planned that the delivery of the rail skills training will be aligned with industry needs. Different levels of training may be provided from apprentice training for students new to the industry, through to mature candidates. It is anticipated that levels of training could be:

  •  Tier 1 – apprentice, UTC / College interfaces;
  • Tier 2 – Graduate training, university interface;
  • Tier 3 – mature candidate training, conversion courses for engineers from other industries, professional / vocational training, and continuous professional development.

To deliver the proposed tiers of training, strategic partners located within the Crewe area will be established to form training alliances. Network Rail will be supporting the UTC teaching staff with projects, work experience placements and presentations from experienced engineers and graduates. The curriculum will be developed in partnership with the Crewe Rail Skills Board members to ensure it provides students with the necessary rail design and engineering skills for a career in the rail industry.

The eventual aim will be the provision of a training system that can take a delegate from first principles within the industry through to becoming a fully accredited rail specialist. The new UTC will also help existing engineers, managers and planners looking to specialise within the industry by providing either tailored bespoke courses or conversion courses to introduce and transfer skills to the industry. The railway is a system and system engineering is becoming increasingly important, and this will be a key feature of the training provided.

While it is accepted that Network Rail and HS2 are building and managing colleges for training their own staff, with the diversity of training required for the industry, the Crewe Rail Design and Engineering Centre of Excellence would not only supplement their needs, but potentially offer courses that Network Rail and HS2 may not be able to facilitate.

The Crewe UTC will complement the existing Network Rail training centres. However, these are based in different regional areas to Crewe and primarily support the Network Rail maintenance organisation, whereas Crewe will specifically focus on railway systems design. This will provide the opportunity for a new talent pipeline, primarily for the regional engineering design groups which have already committed to support the first student intake in September 2016 through placements for 12 railway design students.

Network Rail has the largest rail design house in the UK (over 550 design engineers in Crewe, Manchester, Birmingham, York, Glasgow and Reading) and this needs to grow to meet the huge enhancements and renewals project portfolio along with the skills to support new technology introduction such as the Digital Railway.

Thanks to Jon Shaw of Network Rail and Julian Cobley of Cheshire East Council for their assistance with this article. Any rail suppliers wishing to become involved should contact Jon Shaw at