City & Guilds sets the standard in an area of transportation that previously had to borrow from other industries in order to train employees.
Once the transport of choice for urban Victorians, trams have been running in the UK, in one form or another, for some 200 years. But it’s only recently that tram drivers have been able to take a vocational qualification designed especially for them, thanks to City & Guilds.
Developing a national set of standards
The Level 2 NVQ in Rail Services (Tram/Light Rail Driving) was launched in June 2010. The work-based qualification means drivers can prove their competence against National Occupational Standards (NOS) and have their knowledge, skills and ability properly recognised for the first time.
Although the NOS were produced in 2006 and then redeveloped in 2008-2009, no awarding organisation had previously accredited a qualification. ‘Light rail and tram operators who wanted to have their employees’ skills recognised had to use the mainstream heavy rail qualification, which really didn’t meet the needs of the industry,’ explains City & Guilds Portfolio Manager Patricia Santos. Some people, meanwhile, were taking units from bus and coach qualifications.
All this changed, however, when City & Guilds was approached by the then Sector Skills Council for Transport, GoSkills, and Tram Operations Ltd to consider developing a new qualification. The first six candidates were registered in August 2010 by Tram Operations, who operate the tram system at Croydon for Transport for London.
‘Driving techniques for heavy and light rail are very different,’ says Adrian Richards, Tram Operations Training Manager, explaining that a train runs on segregated alignments and works to signals, but some trams run on the highway like a motor vehicle and face the same hazards as cars, lorries and buses. ‘We wanted something that reflected those different skills.’
The fact there is no separate driving licence for trams means the NVQ lends credibility to the work drivers do, and has helped to increase Tram Operations’ workforce by a third in the past 12 months.
‘The NVQ is very important in the area I live and for our college,’ explains David Green from West Nottinghamshire College, ‘there is a huge expansion going on in light rail and trams in Nottingham. In the past it was like trying to make a square peg fit a round hole - the qualification didn’t suit their needs. This one ticks all the boxes and Nottingham Express Transit are very keen to develop their staff.’
Providing a better service
The qualification equips learners with the specialist knowledge and skills needed to work as a tram or light rail driver, including preparing to use and drive the vehicle, providing good customer service and responding to accidents or emergencies.
Blackpool College, for example, works with Fylde College to train its tram drivers. Blackpool Trams were the only system to remain in operation once other UK systems closed in the 1940s and 1950s. Today, their trams run along the seafront between Blackpool and Fleetwood, and they have 16 new Bombardier Flexity 2 Trams that require up to date knowledge to operate and maintain.
Other employers and providers registered with the scheme are National Express Midland Metro and Four Counties Training. In total 148 people have completed the NVQ.
‘It’s important because it exactly reflects one of the jobs in National Express Midland Metro,’ says Chris Brandreth from Four Counties Training, who in November organised an achievement ceremony for employees.
‘Tram driving was thought of as a niche market,’ says Santos, adding, ‘City & Guilds is very proud of the NVQ and it’s great to see so much enthusiasm around it.’