Workforce Solution

Partnering to deliver a rail workforce solution

A new model of collaboration could be the workforce solution for a labour-constrained industry.

In 2018, after years of waiting, work began on the full electrification of the Gawler Rail Line. A critical project to modernise Adelaide’s rail network and allow for the introduction of electric rollingstock, the relatively small size of the rail sector in South Australia presented an obstacle for the project – how to get the right number of qualified people to work on the project.

An issue not uncommon to rail projects around Australia, the limited supply and ageing demographic of the rail workforce means that labour shortages are a significant issue, said Angela Henderson, national operations manager of Momentum Rail Workforce Solutions, a specialist rail services and personnel provider engaged for the project.

“The challenges are that there is really a set amount of qualified people with the correct competencies to do the roles required for this project and we need more than what there is in the pool,” said Henderson.

The specific roles that the project required were protection officers as well as stopboarders. Staff in these roles play a safety critical role in managing the traffic coming in and out of the worksite. To meet this need, Momentum joined forces with sister company rail training provider CERT Training (Centre for Excellence in Rail Training) to provide the staff with the required level of competency to work on track.

Initially, the project has focused on the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) owned section of rail, which requires specific knowledge of ARTC safe-working rules. Getting staff to this level of competency took a combination of theory and practical knowledge, said Michael Arthur, CERT general manager.

“The staff need to be trained up on the ARTC safe working rules, and the process for that is a combination of formal training in the classroom and also on-site training and mentoring them with experienced Momentum staff members
to get them to the level of knowledge and capability to perform those duties on their own.”

So far, three groups have been conducted through the program, with training for each combining in classroom and on-site instruction taking two months.

What made this project possible, was the unique combination of CERT’s training capabilities with Momentum’s workforce solution. Momentum has collaborated with a job provider to find suitable candidates, while CERT has ensured that they have the required qualifications to be on the worksite. By working with a job provider, staff have been drawn from outside the rail industry and from a diversity of backgrounds, including women, long-term unemployed, people from minority backgrounds and Indigenous people, overcoming the traditional demographics of the rail industry. On the Gawler project, this has meant for those roles covered by Momentum, staff have not had to be poached from other projects.

“What we’ve found is that we’ve been able to enlarge that pool of required people for the project,” said Henderson.

Momentum’s experienced senior employees then mentored these employees to be ready to productively complete the work required, said Arthur.

“Through the mentoring process, the trainees get to consolidate their learning, and once they’re able to prove that they are competent, we get sign off from our trainer that they’ve passed the theoretical and also demonstrated that in a practical environment, then we can issue them their qualification for safe working.”

In this program, CERT and Momentum, both companies under the Engenco Group umbrella, have been able to combine their distinct abilities.

“Together we can offer a complete workforce solution to our clients and that’s exciting,” said Henderson. “By coming together, we bring that expertise together and we offer a very good product to our client.”

As Anthony Fritsche, executive general manager – Workforce Solutions outlines, the outcome is more than a job, and more than a training qualification.

“It’s actually about offering a full pathway, when you put training and labour together you offer a whole onboarding, employment, and career development program. The full value chain in human resource solutions.”

In the case of the Gawler project, the collaboration would not have been possible without buy-in from the lead contractor, in this case Lendlease. Rather than mandating that staff have 6 to 12 months of experience before working on the project, the contractor trusted CERT’s ability to appropriately train staff before coming onto site, said Henderson.

“The way the project is structured, the new staff can work under another protection officer, and is directing them. They’re able to get the experience required through that process by having that more senior person there constantly to assist them.”

The on-site supervision is backed up by CERT’s rail training heritage, with training built upon industry experience, highlighted Arthur.

“We make sure that our trainers have industry leading backgrounds and experience in all the different disciplines that they deliver. We have subject matter experts that create the resources internally and we work very closely with operators in the industry, to make sure that everything that we’re using is current. Then we work closely with Momentum to ensure that the training programs that we have available are adequate and fit for purpose for their staff when they go out on site and meet the needs of the rail operators.”

With the staff now out on track working, there is the opportunity for them to take these skills further in the rail industry. Some will add competencies to their skill sets as the project moves from ARTC track to rail controlled by the South Australia Department of Infrastructure and Transport, while others will be able to take the skills they have learnt so far and apply them to new projects, creating a pipeline of skilled, competent and experienced rail workers.

“Having entered with no background at all, the opportunities for them to develop and work their way through the system is endless,” said Arthur. “They can go as far as they want to go.”

With the experience on the Gawler project, there is also opportunities for the model to be applied to other areas of the rail industry. Already, CERT and Momentum are working with a national freight operator to find, train and deliver drivers, terminal operators, and shunters.

“Operators recognise that there’s an ongoing demand for drivers that isn’t being met through traditional means,” said Arthur. “We’ve worked with them to put together a program now where we’ll take people with no rail background and run them through a series of training programs that includes vocational placement that will allow them to gain practical experience and ultimately the plan is to work them right through until they become qualified drivers.”

With labour shortages a critical issue for the rail sector as a whole, innovative workforce models such as this will be critical for the sector’s future.

“The traditional way of offering a dollar more than the next operator down the road to pinch their staff is a very short-sighted model and not one that’s going to be sustainable,” said Arthur.

“Whether the projects be safe working, infrastructure, or driving operations, we’re looking at programs across the country and where we can provide our clients a pipeline of staff who are new entrants to the industry. They are trained specifically for that operator in their rules and procedures, and then through Momentum, we’re able to place those people into employment. It’s effectively providing a customised, tailored workforce solution that’s implanted into a client’s business and then able to grow to meet their ongoing demand.”

Fritsche highlights that this workforce solution will be key for the rail industry to meet the demand for skills and labour.

“This model will be able to increase the pool of talent in a structured way. We’re building a fit for purpose workforce of the future through this type of model, drawing upon different demographics and because we’re providing the training, the skills, the knowledge and the employment, then we can control that whole process ensuring an effective and sustainable outcome.

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Goldfields Railway infrastructure project creating regional rail skills pathway

A joint program is developing practical skills in rail for indigenous and vulnerable people in partnership with the Victorian Goldfields Railway.

The project brings together the heritage Victorian Goldfields Railway, with the Mount Alexander Shire Council, Bendigo and District Aboriginal Co-operative and the Centre for Excellence in Rail Training(CERT).

Participants will assist with upgrading rail infrastructure between Castlemaine and Maldon, managed by the Victorian Goldfields Railway, while progressing to a Certificate II in Rail Infrastructure.

The partnership is supported by $90,000 from the Victorian government’s Flexible Local Transport Solutions Program. The program provides funding for local transport initiatives, services and infrastructure in regional Victoria.

Victorian Minister for Public Transport Ben Carroll said the unique collaboration would deliver long-term benefits.

“We know how important that first step on the ladder to meaningful employment is – this training program will deliver strong job prospects to local jobseekers and boost Victoria’s strong field of transport infrastructure talent.”

Anthony Fritsche, executive general manager – Workforce Solutions at Engenco, the parent company of CERT, said that the training deliver will be tailored to the needs of the project while providing an ongoing pathway.

“CERT’s Certificate II in Rail Infrastructure will be contextualised to the needs of the Victorian Goldfields Infrastructure Project to ensure candidates are all job ready and motivated to further develop their careers on such an exciting regional Victorian project,” he said.

“CERT has extensive experience in delivering career development programs in regional rail infrastructure projects and continues to work with industry and all levels of government to facilitate employment pathways for new entrant and indigenous job seekers.”

In-kind support worth over $50,000 is being contributed by the Victorian Goldfields Railway, and president Steve Strangward said the project would speed up completion of the project.

“The program will accelerate completing a $2 million major infrastructure and track upgrade currently underway.”

Teaching contemporary rail practices in the training room

The Certificate II in Rail Infrastructure, a foundational qualification for those in the rail maintenance and installation sector, involves over 60 units of competency and comprises seven core units and a selection of nine electives, spanning the maintenance and use of hand tools to safely accessing the rail corridor.

At the CERT (Centre for Excellence in Rail Training Pty Ltd), a training solutions provider for the rail and allied industries, courses are delivered by a team of trainers whose experience within the rail industry ensures that each unit of competency is taught with first-hand knowledge in mind.

One of those trainers is Craig Ramstadius, who brings with him 25 years of experience across construction and transport infrastructure. Sean Choat, National Quality and Queensland operations manager at CERT, described how Ramstadius brought this knowledge to the rail sector.

“Craig started his career in general construction, he worked for TAFE as well and about 25 years ago he got into rail and because he’s had experience with masonry, concrete, and bricklaying and it gave him insights into rail structures.”

Since joining CERT in 2012, Ramstadius has delivered courses through its competency-based approach to vocational education and training (VET).

“Craig worked in a number of companies, including Taylor Rail and he was in railway asset maintenance. He knows what he’s talking about, he’s done the work, but in terms of being an instructor, and he can assess people to their position of competence,” said Choat.

As a national training provider, with sites in each state and the Northern Territory, trainers such as Ramstadius have got to grapple with the varied standards and regulations that apply in each state and impart this flexibility to their students.

“Craig has come to Queensland to deliver some training in the past and it has been fantastic,” said Choat. “Because of the wealth of experience that he has, he’s able to apply himself, understand the rules and regulations in Queensland under this particular network because they’re all different.”

Similarly, Phillip Cavanough, a trainer/assessor at CERT can utilise a broad base of understanding across the rail industry to train the next generation of rail maintenance workers.

“Phil is very well qualified,” said Choat. “He delivers both our Certificate II in Rail Infrastructure and our Certificate III as well. Phil’s worked extensively in Queensland and Western Australia, he’s done some work in NSW and Victoria also.”

Cavanough, who worked for Queensland Rail as well as Fluor Rail Services, combines a knowledge of track infrastructure with rail operations, Choat said.

“Our trainers at CERT have that experience not just to construct a track, but to actually understand the interface between rollingstock, track, and signals,” he said.

Staying in touch

The experience that CERT trainers have enables them to understand the knowledge required to work in the rail industry that goes beyond the black and white stipulated requirements. Wayne Krause brings 22 years of experience for Queensland Rail and Aurizon to the training programs he delivers. Choat highlights that this experience brings more knowledge that can be shared with students and trainees.

“Wayne has qualifications as a track protection officer, so when he’s delivering training to our maintenance and construction students, he’s able to impart that awareness and understanding of rail safety and how it interfaces with working on track. For example, it’s important that you’ve got your protection in place when you carry out all of the processes so as to protect workers.”

Keeping this knowledge up to date is also something that CERT proactively ensures.

“Every 12 months, all of our trainers, no matter how experienced they may be, have to go back and do a vocational placement. So, they will go in to a rail environment and actually see what’s going on and participate.”

While these visits are a requirement, mandated by the Australian government for all training organisations to continue their registration, Choat highlights how businesses respond when a CERT trainer comes into the organisation.

“Our clients are impressed CERT values them as providing value in underpinning trainers’ industry currency.  As a result, our graduates hit the ground running having benefitted from their trainer’s exposure to current practice and technology on the job.  On the first day of work graduates are put into a gang and onto tasks and they know what needs to be done and how to do it.”

Undertaking these placements ensures that as the rail industry continues to modernise, contemporary practices are taught in the classroom.

“Our trainers are getting to see how technology and new types of equipment can improve the way rail work is done, so they can then come back and they can inform their learners, not on something that they picked up when they were a track worker themselves, but what’s happening now,” said Choat.

A holistic approach to training

After all, not every situation that a rail maintenance worker will confront can be simulated at a training facility. Bridging this gap, according to Choat, is the approach that CERT trainers bring to vocational education. 

“You can’t put people through and consider all the conditions they might experience on the job – they might be in night work, it might be wet, it might be confined spaces – so a good assessor can identify through asking underpinning questions, like, ‘If it was dark and there wasn’t enough lighting, how would go about performing this job? If a machine broke down, what would you do?’”

These outcomes ultimately deliver a more skilled and competent rail workforce, said Choat.

“We like to think that our graduates hit the ground running and they’re contributing to a better rail system in Australia.”