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A new approach to training

The quality of training and assessment at two businesses within Balfour Beatty Rail (UK) has leapt up over the past year, with inspectors on behalf of NSARE confi rming that Balfour Beatty Rail Projects (BBRP) is now a top-rated ‘outstanding’ provider in every category, after a disappointing performance in its previous inspection last year. Balfour Beatty Rail Renewals (BBRR) also improved, and its rating is now ‘good’. RTM spoke to BBRP’s learning and development manager Helen Yates, and BBRR’s organisation development manager Chloe Tucknott.


nder the new accreditation regime of rail industry training providers instituted

by NSARE, the National Skills Academy for Railway Engineering, the frequency of inspections depends upon the result of the previous inspection. In 2012, Balfour Beatty’s Rail Projects and Rail Renewals businesses received surprisingly poor scores, and were both in the bottom quartile of the nearly 100 providers inspected. Both were deemed ‘satisfactory’, though that grade has since been more accurately named ‘requires improvement’. Those grades meant they would face reinspection a year later – a process which has recently concluded.

In their latest inspection, BBRP was found to be ‘outstanding’ in every category, and BBRR also improved, achieving a ‘good’ score (it was ‘outstanding’ in two out of six categories). RTM wanted to know more about how these remarkable turn-arounds were achieved.

Balfour Beatty Rail Projects

There is an important context to BBRP’s poor 2012 score: when it was fi rst inspected, it had no actual training organisation in place, and the trainers and assessors sat in a different part of the group. Helen Yates, the dedicated learning and development manager for the business, was not actually appointed until May 2012, after the fi rst assessment in March of that year.

She told us: “The Projects business TUPE transferred the trainers and assessors from another part of the BB Group to work directly for the business, meaning there was a lot more focus.

“The initial inspection, which came out as ‘satisfactory’, was probably a fair assessment at that point in time – because there was no real primary focus on the Projects organisation. It was just one of the many areas of training that one part of the Balfour Beatty group offered, not only to the group but to third parties as well.”

The changes to the way training was handled were already in the pipeline at the time of the fi rst inspection, she said, though she added

18 | rail technology magazine Aug/Sep 13

that the poor result “reinforced” the need to turn learning and development into a business focused professional function striving towards excellence in our training standards. “That’s now paid dividends,” she said.

Plan of action

Yates studied the previous inspection report to put together a plan of action. Some aspects of the old report were rendered irrelevant by the organisational changes, but other parts were useful, she said, especially the self-assessment report. “That gave me a management framework to use. I found that invaluable.”

A quality improvement plan was worked up, with separate actions for Yates herself, for the trainers and assessors during events, and for wider co-ordination.

A signifi cant amount of planning was done to ensure the whole process of training and assessment and Sentinel accreditation was less disruptive to the business’ operational requirements, while improving its quality.

Yates said: “The main focus, and where we excelled in the inspection, is on the quality of the training delivered. We’ve been striving for excellence to ensure the learner outcomes are achieved. We wanted to look at what these people need to learn at these events, and to ensure that is what’s being achieved.

“We can manage that much more effectively with an internal training department.”

‘The potential was already there’

BBRP’s main offi ce is in Birmingham, but training and assessment takes place nationwide, including at Sandiacre, Kirby, Bristol, Manchester, Paisley and Walsall. Most of the content is delivered in-house, especially in critical areas like COSS (Controller of Site Safety) assessment. But Yates added: “The less important and infl uential areas we may outsource.”

The NSARE inspections, carried out by Tribal, focus on the educational qualities of the training, not the technical content.

Yates praised the new inspection, which took place in mid-May, as “very thorough” and said the fi nal report was also much more detailed and useful than the previous one. She welcomed the fact that the inspectors looked at what was being done on wider learning and development issues, not just focusing on Sentinel training. She said: “Development of our people is an absolute priority and BBRP are passionate about that, hence the investment to have us sat here as an internal function.

“The senior management team within BBRP identifi ed that there needs to be investment in people; but the potential was already there. We knew we had competent and skilled professional people, and we employ inspirational trainers and assessors. It was all there, it was about bringing it all together.”

Achieving the ‘outstanding’ grade has “generated so much interest in the training capability of the business”, she said. “I’ve had a large number of calls.”

Yates was encouraged by the work NSARE has done so far, saying: “NSARE is defi nitely pointing the standard of training within the industry in the right direction. It’s starting to regulate the industry and get it away from bad habits of the past. Further focus on this will ensure that we deliver competent individuals to the industry, which is paramount to both safety and performance. NSARE has a great role and I support SkillsID and the skills forecast and the other things it does, and I think NSARE will bring great changes to the industry.”

Gil Howarth, NSARE’S chief executive, congratulated Balfour Beatty on its rapid response in tackling the issues raised in its fi rst inspection report and urged the rest of the industry to demonstrate a similar willingness to change and become outstanding. He said: “We are delighted Balfour Beatty has wholeheartedly embraced the concept of continuous improvement that underpins our accreditation regime. This sends a very strong message to the industry that companies of Balfour Beatty’s size and stature can respond quickly to change. We will continue to support them and other like-minded providers as we strive to raise standards in the rail industry.”

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