It’s full steam ahead for Wales’s next generation of railway workers, as the first wave of learners arrived this week to join Coleg y Cymoedd’s ground-breaking Rail Engineering Apprenticeship Programme.
Following the first stage of a £3m investment in new equipment and facilities at the college’s Nantgarw campus, an initial intake of nine young learners from across south Wales have started their apprenticeships as rail track engineers. Over the next 12 months a further 40 new apprentices will join the programme.
The intensive training, which is linked to employment in the industry, is being delivered jointly by Coleg y Cymoedd and specialist recruitment firm McGinley Support Services; a partnership which is fifty per cent funded by the Welsh Government.
The apprentices will earn their Level 2 qualifications working on the college’s industry standard equipment, which includes a section of full scale replica rail track.
Further investment is taking place at the campus and by September 2015 work will be complete on a purpose built rail facility at the Nantgarw, which will establish Coleg y Cymoedd as a centre of excellence for railway training.
Shay Smallman, is one of the first rail apprentices to study at the college. Speaking of his first week’s training, the 18 year old from Gilfach Goch in the Rhondda Valley, said: “After reading up about the apprenticeship, I saw the great opportunities it offered. I really enjoy practical work so it was a brilliant choice for me.
“So far we have been learning a lot about health and safety on the track and how to use the equipment properly. Because there are so many dangers involved it’s important to learn this now. We have used the replica track twice so far which is really exciting.”
Tony Rowberry, 21 from Mountain Ash, in the Cynon Valley, has already decided he would like to pursue a higher level qualification in rail track engineering after this year is complete. He said: “My brother works with McGinley, so I have seen first-hand the amazing opportunities he has had. I’m really glad I chose to do the apprenticeship because I have loved it so far, particularly because I enjoy learning on the job. Our course tutor has given us amazing support so far, and always been there if there is anything we need.”
In addition to core rail engineering skills, the facility is designed to provide enhancement to a number of transferable skills such as building works and electrical trades which can be migrated across to the railway environment.
McGinley’s railway apprenticeship course tutor, Wayne Chawner, who is based at Coleg y Cymoedd, said: “The railway apprenticeship is a fantastic opportunity for these young people to work on a real life replicated track with proper components, in a very safe environment. This course will provide the learners with first-hand experience with huge career advancements in the rail industry on offer. We have just finished the first week of the apprenticeship, and I have been so impressed at how eager and engaged the learners are.”
Commenting on the new apprenticeship programme, Judith Evans, principal of Coleg y Cymoedd, said:“We’re very pleased to be working with McGinley, as our latest industry partner, to deliver innovative training that leads to real jobs. With major rail investments planned for the coming years the prospects are bright for these young people. The investment by the Welsh Government to create a centre of excellence here, shows their confidence in Coleg y Cymoedd’s ability to deliver excellent education, training and career opportunities to young people in south Wales.