ALEX POND MANAGING DIRECTOR OF CITY & GUILDS TRAINING

In 2010, Alex joined Intertrain as Operations Director, and sold the business to City & Guilds in 2019.

 

How did you get started in the industry?

I left school without any qualifications and joined the rail industry through an apprenticeship in engineering in the ’90s – where I gained the trade of a welder fabricator. I started at the bottom as a track worker and worked my way up the ranks to more senior positions. Then, in 2010, I joined what was at that point a small private training and assessment provider called Intertrain – now City & Guilds Training – to help develop the next generation of rail trainers and industry professionals.

 

What is the backstory of Intertrain, how did it start out?

Intertrain was founded in 1997 by Keith Jessop, a rail expert who had been working in the industry since the late ’60s. At that point, it was very small. It was just a couple of trainers operating out of one location in Doncaster providing track safety courses in line with Network Rail regulations.

Keith was essentially a self-trained sole trader who wanted to pass on the knowledge that he had gained over the years. Despite the challenges the railway industry was facing at the time amid privatisation, he strongly believed that railways would always be needed and that meant skilled workers would also be needed to carry the industry forward.

Intertrain evolved over the years, and when I joined in 2010, I was tasked with the remit of expanding the business. I created a plan to set up a training centre within an hour of every major city in the UK and took it from there. In November 2019, Intertrain was acquired by City & Guilds which opened another new phase for us, and for our training offer to evolve again.

 

How has Intertrain grown over the years and evolved as part of City & Guilds Training?

When I first joined in 2010, we knew that there was a gap in the market for a national railway training provider, and that was our key to growth. Over time, we’ve expanded our centres and today we’re the largest railway training company in the industry by far with 60-plus trainers across the UK – and we’re still growing, with plans to get to one hundred trainers.

We’ve also become a one-stop-shop for rail industry training needs. After starting with track safety training courses, we also branched out into new areas including overhead lines, signalling and plant – each of which requires specialist facilities and equipment. Within these areas, we’re looking to expand what we offer. For example, we don’t offer all of our services nationally, which is one of our big goals looking forward.

As part of City & Guilds Training, bringing together Intertrain, Gen2 and City & Guilds Training – Electrical (formerly TradeSkills4U), we’re also diversifying our offer even further to cover more areas. As well as rail, we can provide training services for transportation, engineering, manufacturing, construction, green and nuclear – both by growing our internal training workforce and by collaborating with quality-assured partners.

Plus, as a charity, everything we do at City & Guilds is invested back into our industries which has given us some incredible opportunities to explore new areas for development.

 

Can you tell us more about how you invest back into the industry at a charity?

One project we’ve been working on with the City & Guilds Foundation is the Rehabilitation Project. We started working with HMP Highpoint to offer Department for Education-funded bootcamps that help prisoners develop their skills. To support the delivery of bootcamps, the City & Guilds Foundation awarded £65,000 of funding to install rail track into HMP Highpoint that allowed learners to gain practical hands-on skills for employment.

The innovative use of the skills bootcamp model was the first of its kind in prisons. Working with Network Rail and our awarding body NSAR, we gained approval to deliver licence to practice elements within the prison environment. Learners complete all training elements within prison and then attend one of our local centres to complete a track walkout on a live railway line upon release.

It has been really successful in supporting the rehabilitation of offenders, whilst also introducing new people into the industry to help address the skills shortage. All of our learners are offered a guaranteed job opportunity and, as it currently stands, almost 90 per cent of those who complete the full training programme (both within prison and upon release) are in employment.

We’re now expanding on this and working with four more prisons across the country to offer the same programme through the MOJ Future Skills Programme. This enables us to provide more opportunities to people nationally as we cover most areas.

Being part of City & Guilds has helped us elevate our purpose to a new level. We believe skills change lives, and the Rehabilitation Project fits our purpose of helping people into the job, on the job and onto the next job. We see the impact that learning and training has on each and every individual that passes through our doors. It is fantastic to see how people can transform lives through learning and this is what really drives us and gets us out of bed each morning.

 

What are some of the biggest projects running through City & Guilds Training at the moment?

As well as our skills bootcamps that introduce hundreds of new people into the industry, to help tackle both the shortage of trainers and the ageing workforce that the rail industry is facing, we launched the City & Guilds Training Skills Academy to get new trainers from industry into trainer posts. The academy is run by Tracey Troth, who was formerly the head of quality assurance for the National Skills Academy for Rail.

Traditionally, a lot of trainers in the industry have been more seasoned and towards the end of their careers. But one of the key things that we’re doing differently at the City & Guilds Training Skills Academy is focusing on bringing in younger industry professionals to become trainers. They still have plenty of industry experience, and our six-month ‘Train the Trainer’ programme equips them with all the skills they need to thrive as trainers from scratch. We believe it’s critical to pull in younger trainers, not only because it can help attract more young people into the industry, but also it means they have long training careers ahead of them.

Through the academy, we’re also working in partnership with other providers, such as the Association of Railway Training Providers to help them get more trainers into their business – and we’re growing our own workforce this way too.

 

What are some of the biggest challenges this sector currently faces and how are you working to tackle these challenges?

In the rail industry, as we flagged before, two of our core challenges are the skills shortage and the ageing workforce. It’s also not a very diverse industry. According to NSAR’s latest 2023 Rail Workforce Survey, the average age of our workforce is 45 years old, with a third of the workforce over 50 years of age. The report also highlighted that the rail industry remains a predominantly white male-dominated industry. Women account for only 16 per cent of the workforce, and it’s 87.5 per cent white compared to a national average of 81.7 per cent.

These are challenges that we are looking to address in part through the Rail Skills Academy. We are working hard towards making the rail industry a more diverse and inclusive place to work by building multicultural teams of trainers of different ages, different genders and from different backgrounds.

 

What’s next for City & Guilds Training?

Alongside diversifying what we currently offer, expanding all our programmes across the country, building up our Rail Skills Academy, and investing back into the industry, we’ve also recently won a partnership with Network Rail to deliver their Rail Skills framework.

Network Rail changed the way they managed their training, and rather than working with hundreds of training providers, they have reduced their supply chain down to three. We’re one of those three, so we’ll be building more partnerships with training organisations across the country to deliver on that.