Arriva has significantly expanded its UK bus apprenticeship scheme to train tomorrow’s engineers


In 2014 Arriva employed 26 engineering apprentices across its UK bus division

The general election campaign has seen all of the major political parties pledge to support, encourage and grow the number of apprenticeships available to young people. Indeed, prime minister David Cameron recently said that he was keen for them to be “level pegging” with university degrees.

Recent years have seen growing interest in the opportunities offered by this alternative career path to university and many transport operators have been taking on increasing number of young people and training them for a future career in the industry.

The growth of apprenticeships is demonstrated by Arriva. Five or six years ago the group took on just four engineering apprentices across its UK bus division, but this year 37 will join the group So what has changed?

Lloyd Mason, Arriva’s engineering development manager explains that the group has made a conscious decision to focus on apprentices. “Six years ago it was pretty dire with us just taking on a handful of apprentices,” he reveals. “That triggered a discussion, principally because there was a need for succession planning at our UK bus operations. We were planning ahead and looking at the age profile of our engineering staff and saw we had a looming skills gap; there were a large number of people heading towards retirement age with too few people behind them to fill their roles. It made us think about the future and change our strategy.”

Since that time the number of apprenticeships offered by the group has increased year-on-year, leading to 26 being employed in 2014. Mason adds that for the next three to four years at least, similar numbers will be employed. “As part of that succession plan, we need to make sure we have the right people with the right skills,” he says.

Arriva offers a structured apprenticeship for young people that is tailored to their specific specialism. Mason, a former engineering apprentice himself, is enthusiastic about the scheme and has played a key role since joining Arriva in 2006. As he says himself, he’s keen for the group to have an apprentice scheme that sets the standard.

“We’re one group, but the seven bus operating companies have a high degree of autonomy,” he says. “They recruit the number of apprentices they need in the right specialisms. Centrally we support them, help them recruit them and also work to ensure that the training those apprentices receive is consistent and to a set pattern.”

The recruitment process is a three stage process that allows those interested in an apprenticeship to apply via a number of channels, including the national apprenticeships website and the Arriva UK Bus website. Candidates are then short-listed and undertake a paper-based assessment that tests a variety of skills including spatial awareness and mechanical theory. They then take a series of practical tests, such as measuring, cutting and filing a piece of metal, in a real bus depot, a move that enables candidates to get a feel for the working environment and also assesses their ability to interpret instructions. If successful they are then invited to a final interview. As Mason notes, by that stage both he and his colleagues have a good idea of the candidate’s abilities.

The scheme itself is four years in length with the first three years at college on a block release basis where apprentices learn the theory of bus and coach engineering delivered by City College Coventry. The final year is spent in the workplace with on the job training in the host company. There is, of course, no guarantee of a job at the end of the training, but apprentices are paid throughout and as Mason points out, the intention is to offer all apprentices employment. “We want to keep the right people,” he adds. “It’s a four-year course, so the investment is substantial from Arriva’s point of view. It’s not to be sneezed at and we’re obviously keen to see them through the full course.”

Of course an apprentices’ career journey doesn’t just end with the scheme and there are plenty of opportunities to progress through the ranks. Mason says that the group has every intention of developing its apprentices and maximising their potential and this has led to a new scheme that aims to take the brightest and put them through the group’s graduate training scheme.

This year two former apprentices have joined the scheme that aims to give them wider experience of other areas of the business, such as operations, financial and commercial, as well as the management skills required to progress their careers. For the first 12 months of the scheme they are based with Mason at Arriva’s Derby garage and alongside project work, their time is being spent shadowing engineering managers as well as getting involved in the apprenticeship recruitment process.

“We’ve aimed to produce a flexible scheme,” he notes. “It’s not just X, Y or Z. We want to provide them with a wider picture of the business and we’ve deliberately assigned them mentors who are senior managers from outside of engineering, so they get to appreciate that bigger picture. We don’t want to have people who think that they are just engineers. We want people who can take on and appreciate that bigger picture.”

Meanwhile alongside these schemes, Mason is also available to assess the ongoing training needs of Arriva’s engineering employees. Largely this is a case of determining the training requirement and then matching that need with courses provided by third party training companies. “However, it doesn’t always work out like that,” Mason adds. “Sometimes it may just be simpler and more effective to deliver a course in-house. Most of the third party training providers require a minimum number of participants and obviously if we can’t breach that threshold, we’ll devise and deliver a course ourselves.”

There is also an internal engineering skills competition that, as Mason says, fell into his brief when he joined the group. This initiative directly led to the creation of the IRTE Skills Challenge, a wider scheme that has championed and rewarded the work of bus engineers from all operators, not just Arriva, since 2011. “It’s something I’m immensely proud to have played a part in creating,” he adds. “Engineers are an important part of the industry and it’s good for them to get the recognition they deserve.”


Industry urged to get on board

Apprenticeships are changing and the industry is being urged to take part and shape the future of these vital schemes that deliver the next generation of employees.

In November 2012, the government-commissioned a review of apprenticeships which make a number of recommendations that would make them more rigorous and more responsive.

The recommendations included:

  • Redefining apprenticeships: they should be targeted only at those who are new to a job or role that requires sustained and substantial training;
  • Focusing on the outcome of an apprenticeship – what the apprentice can do when they complete their training – and freeing up the process by which they get there. Independent assessment is key;
  • Recognised industry standards should form the basis of every apprenticeship;
  • All apprentices should reach a good level in English and maths before they can complete their apprenticeship;
  • Government funding must create the right incentives for apprenticeship training. The purchasing power for investing in apprenticeship training should lie with the employer; and
  • Greater diversity and innovation in training – with employers and government safeguarding quality.

To take forward the implementation of these changes, the government is endorsing Trailblazer groups of employers and professional bodies from across all sectors. The intention is that all new apprenticeships starting from the 2017/18 academic year will use these new standards.

At present the bus and coach operator Trailblazers, made up of bus and coach operators of all sizes, are working to develop new apprenticeship standards in three areas: bus and coach engineering maintenance; working with HGV operators to develop a standard for heavy vehicle engineering apprentices; and the creation of a new engineering manager apprenticeship.

“Once we’ve developed the standards and they receive approval, they will then become the standards for engineering apprenticeships in the bus and coach and HGV sectors,” adds Lloyd Mason, Arriva’s engineering development manager. “Now is the time for any operators not involved to get involved and play a part in shaping the future, so I urge the industry to act now.”


This article appears inside the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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