The National College for Advanced Transport & Infrastructure (NCATI) is dedicated to closing the rail sector’s skills gap, and the Skills Bootcamps in Rail are its latest solution for stimulating industry growth while providing social value

NCATI was set up with support from employers across the transport and infrastructure sector to create their highly skilled workforce of the future, leaving a skills legacy for the industry and
the wider UK economy. Back in 2020, the National Skills Academy for Rail (NSAR) and City & Guilds conducted a study that predicted profound skills shortages affecting the rail workforce over the next five years. According to the report’s headline figures, the problem was twofold, relating both to retention of current staff (with over 28 per cent of rail workers nearing retirement) and to attraction of new recruits (with very low representation from young people, women, and those from BAME backgrounds).

Fast forward to 2022, and these challenges in retention and attraction remain – compounded by the government’s ongoing investment in transformational projects like HS2, as well in existing railway infrastructure, which continue to put a focus on new skillsets that do not currently exist in abundance within the UK job market. These challenges sit at the heart
of why NCATI was established, and why initiatives like the brand new ‘Fast Track to Rail’ Skills Bootcamps are so vital to the sector’s growth.

Responding to industry
Key to NCATI’s objective to close the sector’s skills gap is ensuring that the College trains people in the right skills, at the right time, something that can only be achieved by listening to employer partners and responding to industry demand. A notable example of this industry responsiveness is the recent extension of NCATI’s apprenticeship offer.

The College has historically focused on delivering higher-level apprenticeships and higher education courses from Level 4 onwards, in alignment with initial industry forecasts that identified a third of the jobs supported within construction occupations during the first phases of HS2 would require higher-level skills (Level 4 and above). However, having listened to partners in industry, the College recognises there are skills gaps within transport and infrastructure that need filling at lower levels than the current provision.

In response to this demand, since joining the University of Birmingham Group in April 2021, NCATI has been working with the University on developing new and exciting routes into the sector, broadening access and ultimately creating a more diverse pipeline of future talent. This has led the College for the first time in its history to extend its apprenticeship and full-time provision to Level 3, opening up opportunities in the sector to a much wider group of people, and hopefully tackling the industry’s challenges with recruitment.

Fast-tracking skills
Crucially, this flexibility and responsiveness in its skills offer has enabled NCATI to partner with NSAR and deliver brand new ‘Fast Track to Rail’ Skills Bootcamps in October and in January. Set up and fully funded by the UK Government, Skills Bootcamps are short and flexible courses that give adults aged 19 and above the opportunity to build up sector-specific skills and transition into new and in-demand careers. In this particular case, the Skills Bootcamps are expressly focused on attracting new entrants into the rail industry by providing them with
a six-week programme of learning at NCATI, followed by a guaranteed interview with a rail employer and access to an accelerated apprenticeship if successful. The design of this short programme ensures that the learning outcomes allow for progression onto either a Level 3 or Level 4 apprenticeship in rail, working with a rail employer and studying at the College.

As a ‘pathway to an accelerated apprenticeship’, the genesis of these particular Skills Bootcamps was to tackle an issue NSAR had identified with two rail engineering apprenticeships: that the completion times are typically three to six months longer than anticipated. In providing learners with a few weeks of upfront and intensive training in the foundational knowledge of working in rail, the ‘Fast Track to Rail’ Skills Bootcamps address this problem by providing learners with a stronger footing in the knowledge, skills and behaviours required by a rail apprenticeship, fast-tracking them through induction training, and essentially making candidates more attractive as apprentices.

Broadening access
What is more, the Skills Bootcamps serve as an important case study for furthering NCATI’s mission and supporting industry growth: they attract large numbers of people from diverse backgrounds to the sector, and quickly. After all, the Skills Bootcamps provide learners with flexibility (only six weeks long, and a mixture of on-campus and online learning) as well as accessibility (open to all adults aged 19 and above, whether they are employed, self-employed, or recently unemployed), and have proven especially popular with under-represented groups because of this break with more traditional and potentially inaccessible delivery methods.

Delivered on NCATI’s two campuses in Birmingham and Doncaster, recruitment has been focused on enabling access by learners facing barriers and/or located in deprived areas in these regions. To this end, the ‘Fast Track to Rail’ Skills Bootcamps have removed the biggest barrier to entry for most learners from under-represented backgrounds: cost.

The Skills Bootcamps are designed to offer people a ‘first step’ into the rail industry with targeted introduction to potential employers, de-emphasising strict academic requirements in favour of providing robust training and learner support that addresses any barriers and difficulties during the programme. This support includes English and Maths tutoring, as well as the NSAR-led ‘Personal Brand Camp’, which targets personal and communication skills in preparation for interviews with rail employers.

Closing the skills gap
Just like the skills shortage affecting the rail sector, NCATI’s mission is twofold, aiming to deliver the skilled workforce of tomorrow by encouraging more people into the rail sector to address skills shortages; and offering them varied pathways to address skills gaps. The brevity and accessibility of this latest pathway offered by NCATI provides a greater number of people from more diverse backgrounds the opportunity to take their first step into an industry they have likely never considered before. In this way, the ‘Fast Track to Rail’ Skills Bootcamps may prove to be an excellent model for closing the industry’s skills gap, and delivering social value in the process.

For this model to work most effectively, however, NCATI relies on forging successful partnerships with organisations across the rail sector, making sure that these partnerships help provide the skilled workforce of the future with the right equipment, the right courses, and the right career opportunities.

To this end, the College has developed a Skills Pledge, in which we invite organisations across the sector to engage with us and discuss how best we can support each other in providing skilled employees to the sector, be it through Skills Bootcamp interviews, apprenticeship recruitment, mentoring, or recognition towards contractor obligations (for example HS2’s Skills, Employment and Education outputs).

If you’re interested in engaging with us as an employer partner in the Skills Bootcamps or other training opportunities, please get in touch – we’re always happy to help and would really welcome your support in addressing the sector’s skills challenges. You can find out more about us by visiting and can get in touch on 0330 120 0375 or