In his report on engineering skills (November 2013), Professor John Perkins, chief scientific adviser to the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, issued a call to action to industry, educators and government to ‘step up’ to inspire future engineering talent and address skills shortages.

And with Derby being the UK centre for advanced technological skills, the University is ideally located to respond to Professor Perkins’ challenge. In fact, an impressive 11 per cent of Derby’s workforce is in a high-tech job – more than any other city in the country.

Derby also has a unique history in the rail industry and this year celebrates 175 years in rail. There are significant employers based in Derby such as Bombardier and East Midlands Trains, and Derbyshire is a hub for the rail industry, with more than 200 companies based here. We work closely with many of these employers to develop programmes that are practical and underpinned by the latest thinking.

We were very recently awarded almost £600,000 by the Higher Education Funding Council for England to help plug the engineering skills gap through Postgraduate Support Scheme funding.

The project is aimed at attracting students from related backgrounds as well as those already studying engineering at undergraduate level. It also aims to help those from under-represented backgrounds in the industry (including women) to enter engineering. This is particularly important for the rail industry where only 4.4 per cent of all engineers are women.

At the recent Women in Rail event, held in Derby in May, it was noted by Baroness Kramer, the Minister for Transport, that more initiatives were needed to attract women into the rail industry.

This is a unique opportunity for the University and employers to work together to develop workforce engineering skills through postgraduate study. The programme is tailored to employer needs, solving technical problems important to the business, focusing on specific projects and commissioning bespoke research.

Two programmes for differing situations

The project offers two programmes to suit differing situations: MSc Innovative Engineering Solutions and MSc Professional Engineering.

The MSc Innovative Engineering Solutions is a one-year full-time programme which is free to students. It includes a six-month paid work placement and research project with an employer which focuses on developing expertise in solving business-critical technical problems. The project draws on the latest advanced manufacturing, research and testing equipment and facilities available at the University’s new Institute for Innovation in Sustainable Engineering (IISE), based in Derby, which partners can also access.

By joining with us, employers can reap the benefits of being involved in the recruitment and training of a potential new member of staff; influence the development of this innovative new programme of study; develop a training programme that suits the needs of their organisation and commission a specific research project to be undertaken by the student who will work under the supervision of the IISE.

The MSc Professional Engineering, developed with the Engineering Council as part of the Engineering Gateway Programme, is ideal for employers looking to support the development of their employees. It is studied part-time, through online distance learning.

By supporting employees on this programme, employers will offer a professional development route that can be flexed around employee work commitments and will see an immediate impact as it is designed to address the organisation’s specific requirements.

The programme should improve employee attraction and retention through offering credible and reputable staff development opportunities, and create a talent pool of chartered engineers – improving business capacity to bid for larger projects.

It is a work-based learning route to the academic qualifications and professional development students need to demonstrate for registration as a chartered engineer. The course allows students to acquire professional competences and gain an MSc award without the need to take time off work.

As part of both projects we offer free training to experienced managers within the student’s host company which will certify them as a workplace mentor, developing their skills to become an active participant in the student’s learning.

Study while working

Another work-based study degree offered at Derby is our BEng Professional Engineering course. New engineers follow a three-year part-time programme in which study and assessments are based on the organisation and the issues it is facing. Employees study and learn while they are working, which means less time out of the organisation and the immediate application of skills to the workplace.

Not only do the students develop the skills, confidence and competencies to help drive their organisation forward, but they achieve a university degree at the same time – building loyalty and motivation. Different pathways enable specialisation – rail, mechanical, electrical and manufacturing and production.

University of Derby Corporate

For rail businesses needing to meet specific organisational objectives, we can also develop bespoke programmes through our business-to-business division, University of Derby Corporate (UDC).

We have recently worked with Signalling Solutions and Network Rail who chose UDC to provide development programmes tailored to their specific cultures and operating procedures.

After struggling to find a training programme in the UK for its European-designed high-speed overhead contact system, Network Rail’s High Speed division asked UDC to develop a bespoke solution. The company wanted to up-skill and refresh the knowledge of its overhead line technical engineers, who carry out crucial maintenance. Rather than how to do their jobs, the training had to focus on why those jobs had to be done in a certain way, covering health and safety and engineering reasons. The programme did not need to be accredited but Network Rail was keen to include some kind of assessment to check understanding.

Rather than how to do their jobs, the training had to focus on why those jobs had to be done in a certain way, covering health and safety and engineering reasons. The programme did not need to be accredited but Network Rail was keen to include some kind of assessment to check understanding.

This helped the technical engineers understand the fundamentals of the overhead line equipment and how it operates, mechanically and electrically. Topics included an overview of the OCS, electrical and mechanical technologies, mechanical infrastructure, track technologies, the physical environment and future trends and regulatory changes.

With a nationwide shortage of people who can install and maintain rail power lines, yet an upsurge in demand for these skills due to projects such as HS2 and Crossrail 2, we plan to develop similar solutions for other rail-related businesses in the UK.

One example was Signalling Solutions, which was faced with an increase in its graduate intake and needed a bespoke programme for new employees. UDC developed a bespoke graduate development programme for the company covering the latest management and leadership concepts as well as technically-specific modules that relate to Signalling Solutions’ practices. The programme leads to a master’s degree in management and leadership.

The part-time work based programme is being delivered through a combination of face-to-face sessions and online study through UDC’s e-learning portal.

Tel: 0800 678 3311