Airline crew who were stood down from their roles due to the COVID-19 pandemic are now getting in the drivers cabin and serving customers with Sydney Trains. Read more
Bombardier Transportation Australia has had a solid year in spite of the pandemic, thanks largely to their commitment to local manufacturing. Rail Express speaks to ANZ President, Wendy McMillan.
Thales is investing in the local workforce to enable rail’s next generation to fill the digital skills gap.
Improving rail decision making comes down to the ability to communicate. Trapeze knows the value of having data on hand for workforce management. Read more
DB Rail Academy brings 185 years of rail operations expertise to the training of rail staff.
The rail renaissance is clearly not a phenomenon that is confined to Australia and New Zealand. Globally, investment in rail is growing, with the sector tipped to continue to grow despite COVID-19 as governments look to environmentally friendly mobility infrastructure as a way to stimulate economies.
Major new rail projects are continuing in younger markets as well, with new tracks being laid in countries in the Middle East, Africa, and Southeast Asia where rail has previously not played a large role in moving people and goods.
Across many of these projects, experts from some of the more established and technically advanced railways have been brought in to advise and consult on the construction of new rail lines. Deutsche Bahn has drawn on 185 years of rail heritage in Germany, and with DB Engineering and Consulting GmbH (DB E&C), the expertise is compiled in order to advise rail engineers, rail operators and public entities around the world. However, Doreen Christmann, strategic business development manager for DB Rail Academy, Deutsche Bahn’s full-service training provider for the global rail and transport sector, pointed out that the job is not complete when the final sleeper is laid.
“If you want to implement a new railway line, you need to have qualified staff beforehand,” said Christmann.
Seeing that the need for well-trained and qualified staff was an ongoing exercise, DB E&C established the DB Rail Academy to provide ongoing training and education.
“We established the DB Rail Academy four years ago with a more strategic and comprehensive approach. To stay with the customer and to support and guide them through the whole process after the establishment of the project and once the operation had started,” said Christmann.
DB Rail Academy launched in 2016 with its first customer in Dubai, where the local Roads and Transport Authority is in the process of establishing new automated metro lines, a tram network, as well as buses and ferries.
“We began by supporting them in the establishment of their entire qualification system. One of the results is that they now have a training centre based on our recommendations,” said Christmann.
In addition to newly established transport authorities, the DB Rail Academy has also been embraced by transport operators in Latin America who are investing in renewing and expanding their rail networks. In other countries that have a longer history with rail, such as India and China, the company can provide training in upgrading to the latest systems and processes, highlighted Oliver Stoffel, business development manager at DB Rail Academy.
“We have larger countries, with a longer history of railways, that need assistance in terms of transition from older standards and technology to state-of-the-art technology,” he said. “Then we have countries which are already very professional in the rail industry, Singapore springs to mind, where it’s more about the exchange of experience and being a sparring partner to our customer and client.”
In Australia and New Zealand, DB Rail Academy can support new projects in geographies that have not been served by rail, or enable operators to migrate to new technologies as part of their revitalisation of rail services.
A NEW APPROACH TO TRAINING
While having the right skills to meet the rail investment boom is an issue that is facing Australia and New Zealand, there are issues with low numbers of drivers and staff that are already impacting existing networks.
Transport operators have often been caught short and have had to cancel train connections due to a lack of personnel. With a higher number of drivers, guards, and station staff rail operators can expand the number of services and compete with private freight operators who are also hiring from the same pool. Robert Wagner, regional director Australia for DB E&C noted that knowledge transfer needs to occur.
“The competencies are there and really focused in the experience of the older staff, but there’s no one that’s actually transferring this knowledge to younger people who can take over when these staff retire. This is something here on a broader scale, how do we train staff in general, not only train staff, but also train controllers and train attendees and others?”
When it comes to training the next generation of rail workers, DB has the advantage of knowledge and experience.
“Academic training or training from schools and universities is more theory, and what you miss is the real problem and realising in the day to day course of a business the operational issues that you only face if you’re working in this business,” said Christmann. “This covers not only the best practices but also the lessons learned along the way, what mistakes did we make, what we learnt out of it, and how can we improve?”
Currently, DB Rail Academy is in discussions with established training operators to bring its training methodology to Australia. Developed with the Technical University of Kaiserslautern, units within the DB Rail Academy are collaborative and interactive.
“It’s not the kind of learning where an expert is standing in front of a bunch of people. In our training courses it’s working together on issues, finding solutions together,” said Christmann. “We go into the depot or workshops or to the train control centres, talk to the people and really see how it is working.”
Locally, these methods have been applied in the delivery of new transport infrastructure such as the Canberra Light Rail. DB E&C was engaged for the project, and through DB Rail Academy, provided the training for the trainers of light rail drivers on the new network.
“We developed the curricula and the content so it can be taught, and we were present when the first driver trainers were trained, and then they trained a whole bunch of the drivers in Canberra on the system,” said Wagner.
This example illustrated how a rail project goes beyond the physical infrastructure required to get the system up and running.
“We as the consulting engineer, reviewed the works they had done outside on the line, the overhead catenary, the depot and so on, but also adding our knowledge in terms of well, what do we actually need to have enough train drivers available and suitably trained to the date of commencement of operations,” said Wagner.
Having this hands-on training and support ensured the system was a success from day one.
With rail organisations having to respond to ever more complex events, having a workforce management system that can adapt is critical.
No matter how well-developed a plan is, it is only as good as how it is applied. When it comes to rail scheduling and planning, the most workshopped, tested or modelled plan will be judged against how it delivers on the day of operations.
“It’s relatively easy to develop an efficient master roster but where many of the available market solutions fall short is their ability to monitor and respond to emergent changes once that plan is being executed through the day of operations,” said Cameron Collie, senior business consultant for Dassault Systèmes.“In rail, there are numerous unplanned changes that can impact or change who you’ve got available on the day and so it can become largely irrelevant how good your original plan is if 20 minutes into the day of operations things change and your planning assumptions become invalid.”
Collie has worked with rail operators to apply the Dassault Systèmes DELMIA Quintiq application to overcome these challenges. The system, used by global rail organisations such as Eurostar, Swiss Federal Railways and Amtrak, provides rail operators in the freight and passenger sector with a dynamic and flexible workforce management platform that enables long-term planning and demand forecasting for planned events.
“The types of events that need to be taken into consideration by planners include leave planning, special events that may be occurring, such as grand finals or royal shows that cause variations in the demand and variations due to holiday periods, for example there might be reduced running over Easter or Christmas periods,” said Collie.
“In freight, we often see seasonal variations. Typically the movement of grain is very seasonal, and you need to have different plan options to address those. Then of course there’s the requirement to maintain the rail network that can cause outages and cause disruptions to the plan that you’re seeking to resource.”
To ensure that these planned and foreseen events are taken into consideration, Collie has worked with rail operators to forecast and model trends to account for seasonal variations. These models are supported by scenarios. When an event occurs, planners are able to manually or automatically undertake a comparative analysis of available scenarios to see what will deliver the best outcome. Employees can also self-manage shift swapping through a mobile app, reducing the demand for intervention and ensuring the plan stays on track.
But what happens when something unexpected occurs?
One of the most common unplanned events can be staff calling in sick. As an integrated workforce management system, the Dassault Systèmes DELMIA Quintiq software can see where shortages are occurring.
“During day of operations, we can see unplanned absences from people calling in sick, which can be fed into the Dassault Systèmes DELMIA solution either via a mobile app or a sign on clerk,” said Collie.
“What happens then is any activities that are allocated to that staff member are unallocated. Anything they had assigned moved into the unassigned activity bank and then the planner would then look to assign those activities to one or more other people and there’s a range of alternatives they can do that through.”
The tasks can be reassigned manually or by using optimisation filters to select the most appropriate staff member.
“You click on the filter that shows the available and suitable staff to complete that activity. Available means making sure that they’ve got nothing planned in that timeframe and suitable, particularly in the case of train drivers, is making sure that they’ve got all the relevant route knowledge, and traction knowledge to perform the task,” said Collie.
“Alternatively, we’ll see late variations in demand and the requirement to run new train services or cancel train services for whatever reason,” said Collie.
Caused by a multitude of reasons, the late running of services on the day itself can also lead to pressures on staff.
“The trains are trying to run to a schedule, and variations to that can upset the deployment and disposition of your staff and where their next duty may be.”
Drawing on information from the scheduling system or traffic management system, the Dassault Systèmes DELMIA Quintiq application then references this against staff profiles and filters for requirements such as limiting fatigue and tiredness, or even meal break requirements.
“The key capabilities required are the ability to receive real-time inputs from all available information sources and then for that to trigger automatic conflict and constraint protection,” said Collie. “We’re talking about if a driver is driving one train and that’s late, then he is going to be late to his next driving duty, which may be not on the same rollingstock set, so all of those things are automatically detected to assist the planner in identifying the things that need a level of intervention.”
To lessen the need for rapid decision making, and to remove the chance of human error, the software provides automated decision support enhanced by ongoing optimisation, explained Collie.
“We’re aiming to make that as simple as possible through scenario-based menu options, rather than driving the need for a planner to perform atomic transaction level changes.”
These changes then flow through the entirety of the operational plan, without the need for follow-up changes.
“As we get notifications of variations to the operational timetable, we will update the internal timetable version. We have a bespoke technical capability called Propagation, whereby once we receive notification of any variation, consequential changes ripple right through all the objects in the database, and each time an object changes in value, that in turn invokes any rules associated with that object variable,” said Collie.
“In that way, not only can we tell that the train is running late, but we can immediately determine that the allocated staff member is not going to be able to make his next train duty or it’s going to impede on his meal break or he’ll get to the statutory limits of his footplate or driving time, resulting in the requirement
for an emergency replacement driver.”
Responsiveness during day of operations can be as real time as the as the data can be supplied to the Dassault Systèmes DELMIA Quintiq application.
A MORE FLEXIBLE FUTURE
Driving the push towards greater optimisation and automation is Dassault Systèmes’s focus on the KPIs that rail organisations are accountable to. When it comes to footplate time – the amount of time a driver spends driving a train – optimisation within the planning software aims to balance workforce requirements against the operational demands.
“The optimiser can be running in the background at all times and as those real time events come into the system the optimiser can identify and act and resolve those where applicable,” said Collie.
Beyond increasing efficiency, at the core of the system is an understanding of what motivates rail organisations.
“If we consider the train drivers or the guards then the single biggest key business driver that we’re trying to achieve is to make sure that no train service is cancelled or delayed as a result of the unavailability of train crew. All of those technologies that we have available to us, propagation, automatic constraint, and conflict checking and optimisation are key to this.”
Coming out of the experience of 2020, where COVID-19 impacts threw workforce planning into new light, ensuring the resilience of rail organisations in future will come down to having the most efficient and effective way to manage any number of unplanned events and possible plan outcomes.
“In the first instance, you’ve got uncertainty in terms of whether you’re going to have increased absenteeism because people are coming down sick and how to deal with that, you have of course the social distancing requirements, so you can only have reduced numbers of staff on hand at any one time, so all the operational norms pretty much go out the window,” said Collie. “It’s highly variable and you need the ability to be flexible with that.”
Bombardier’s efforts in Australia to grow and maintain diversity within its workforce are at the core of what makes a successful rail business today.
In late September, a milestone was reached at Bombardier Transportation Australia. The date marked 12 months since the launch of the Women’s Professional Network (WPN), an internal empowerment group for the women employed at Bombardier’s sites around Australia. To mark the occasion, a photo taken earlier in 2020 was published on the manufacturer’s social media sites showing the Melbourne base WPN members, and a few male staff, standing in front of a newly built VLocity train set at the manufacturer’s Dandenong facility.
Demonstrating the commitment to diversity from the top down, standing at the front of the group were Victoria’s Minister for Women and Prevention of Family Violence, Gabrielle Williams, Australasian Railway Association (ARA) CEO Caroline Wilkie, ARA Chair Danny Broad, CEO of the St Kilda Gatehouse, Stacey Aslangul, and president of Bombardier Transportation Australia and New Zealand Wendy McMillan.
“Diversity has many faces but the WPN is a shining example of grass roots work that is being done in our business to help lift our female colleagues in their work with Bombardier Transportation,” McMillan said to acknowledge the project’s milestone.
The significance of having a leader like McMillan is not lost on Rahul Kumar, head of human resources Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asia at Bombardier.
“It starts from the top. Most of the diversity and inclusion initiatives have to be top driven, so the leadership buy in is key for us and we’re very lucky to have Wendy as president.”
Kumar has been part of a core team that has been leading a push on diversity and inclusion at Bombardier in Australia. Avoiding large, complex projects that lose momentum and fail to be implemented, Kumar has focused on grassroots initiatives such as the WPN that can be sustained over a long period.
“If we’re going to be focussing on diversity, let’s bring women together. Most of the work is done outside of HR by testing and commissioning engineer Kamakshi Rambhatla. What started as just an effort of getting women together has now resulted in mentoring programs, we’ve had workshops being run by local speakers and we’ve had our local member for Dandenong and the Minister for Women, Minister for Prevention of Family Violence and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Gabrielle Williams come and address them.”
In the 12 months since its launch the WPN has not only improved the careers of those involved and connected women from Bombardier’s sites across Australia but has inspired a movement of sorts with other WPNs being born in Southeast Asia and India. Today, over 20 mentoring groups run under the WPN banner, and an award and recognition program highlights those who have gone above and beyond.
“We now get 20-30 nominations consistently every month,” said Kumar. “At the start, we had to go and ask, ‘Do you want to nominate someone?’ Now it’s changing from a pull to a push system.”
While the program has driven engagement internally, Kumar is aware of the challenges of attracting not only women, but young people, and people from a variety of cultural backgrounds to the rail industry. However, this has not dissuaded Kumar from trying.
“Everyone keeps telling us we don’t have female graduates, we can’t find females in shop floor roles, we can’t find tradeswomen. It’s a reality too, and it’s not easy to find if you advertise, but we said, ‘Are we going to stop at this problem or are we going to find a way?’”
In addition to the traditional pathways into a manufacturing career such as apprenticeships and graduate programs that Bombardier offers, development plans were put in place to provide pathways for those who maybe not have been able to access the same training and education opportunities or who did not come from a traditional rail background.
One of these was TRANSIT. Set up by the Level Crossing Removal Authority (LXRA), the initiative highlights potential rail careers to those from other sectors that were in decline, in particular the automotive sector. Also, in collaboration with LXRA, Bombardier partnered on GROW, which seeks to introduce people from marginalised or disadvantaged backgrounds – including asylum seekers, refugees and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – to training and employment opportunities in the transport and construction industries. A third program that Kumar invested in is the Overseas-Qualified Professionals program, run by Melbourne Polytechnic, which provides a pathway for those with international qualifications to have their training recognised in Australia.
“In a conventional world, individuals from these programs would have found it difficult to get through because they either didn’t have the skills, the background, or the education,” said Kumar. “We have broken those barriers; they prove themselves during internship programs and they considered against any open position in Bombardier.
“We focused on these unconventional ways of getting talent in and once they’re in, then we make sure that they have a buddy and a mentor to put them on the journey.” Most of our OQP employees are doing a fantastic job, said Kumar.
These approaches are leading to success at Bombardier, with the female workforce introduced to manufacturing roles working on the Dandenong shop floor, another first in Bombardier’s long history at the site. There are six women working in various roles currently, and recently, two more female electricians have been selected to join the manufacturing workforce. A similar very structured approach is being followed in our services site in West Melbourne, where we now have four female employees in shop floor roles.
“Now we are starting to see cycles building, so all those efforts now are seeing fruition after a two-year journey,” said Kumar.
A now common element of corporate reporting is metrics which measure diversity. Often measured at the board level, these metrics can also be across a company as a whole. For Bombardier, the company globally tracks the number of women in management roles.
Beneath these headline figures, Kumar points out, is a focus on ensuring there is a pipeline of diverse expertise, and not only based on gender. In addition, diversity is not always captured in clear percentage figures.
“What we have done locally is look at how many women we have in succession plans to leadership because we always need to invest and ask if we have that pipeline of talent. Then we also look at diverse nationalities. This is a hard one to track in a place like Australia. For example, I myself came from India and I moved here in 2004. So, when I put my application down now what do I call myself, an Australian with an Indian background? I would not because I have got an Australian passport, I am Australian. We have done informal mapping, and in Dandenong itself we have over 30 different nationalities represented in some shape or form.”
Another focus is ensuring that the diversity is spread throughout the business, and not only in roles that are traditionally associated with a gender or cultural background.
“Sometimes there are good numbers on diversity but that 10 per cent or 20 per cent figure is skewed because a chunk of it is getting picked up by these traditional functions. In Australia, we are focusing on where we struggle, and that is in what we call conventional rail roles, and that’s building trains, maintaining them and also rail signalling,” said Kumar.
The final area that goes beyond a simple statistic is the retention rate. A diverse hiring policy is no use if the staff come and go through a revolving door, so Bombardier is looking closely at the reasons for a person leaving the organisation to see where it can do better.
“Most people will say I’m going to a new company for career progression but why could we not provide those avenues internally? We will track that to gather that information and then try and make some initiatives to bridge those gaps,” said Kumar.
THE VALUE OF A DIVERSE ORGANISATION
While academic research has proven that diverse organisations are more productive and profitable, as Kumar points out, for an organisation like Bombardier the value of inclusion is self-evident. With products and services operating in over 60 countries and approximately 36,000 employees, working across cultural boundaries is essential.
“Having a workforce that’s inclusive is the cornerstone of delivering projects, that’s how we survive.”
For example, the high capacity signalling system for the Metro Tunnel Project in Melbourne that Bombardier is delivering as part of the Rail Systems Alliance, brings together Australia and Thailand based teams along with other sites around the world. Similarly, the locally designed New Generation Rollingstock for the South East Queensland network are a collaboration between Bombardier teams in Australia and India.
“If we are not a diverse and inclusive organisation, we will start to see it in our delivery, in our products in the way they’re made and developed,” said Kumar.
In 2021, Bombardier will be doubling down on these efforts in Australia with the introduction of a hiring process that is blind to gender, sexuality, religion, marital status, and age, to remove any forms of unconscious bias.
“We are almost ready with a standard format,” said Kumar. “When CVs come in, they come in all fancy shapes and forms, some have got a vision statement, some have got objectives, so we’re going to remove that. We’re going to standardise our format. We’re going to say if someone is interested in Bombardier we want you to put your inputs into these broad categories and we don’t want your name, we don’t want your sexual orientation, religious beliefs, whether you’re married or not, your date of birth and also any reference to your gender.”
While such company-wide efforts are making a difference, as Kumar points out, there are stories every day that showcase why it is always important to keep a focus on diversity and inclusion within rail.
“In 2019, one of the graduates from the GROW community was telling me that he was the first in line from his whole family to ever get into a professional job. He had a double degree in engineering but was working part time as a home removalist. There was a graduate position coming up and I got a call from our LXRA contact saying you should have a look at this young engineering graduate. I said, ‘Not a problem, we will put him through the process.’ Now that guy is doing a fantastic job based in our West Melbourne site.”
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The Western Australian government has launched a four-week intensive training course that will give students hands-on experience on major rail projects in the state.
Students will get a first-hand insight into Metronet projects including the Bellevue Railcar facility, the Yanchep Rail Extension, the Thornlie-Cockburn link, and the Denny Avenue Level Crossing Removal. Road projects are also part of the course.
The program will be delivered at TAFE campuses across Perth and is designed to increase the pool of workers in the infrastructure sector. Young people and women are being encouraged to apply.
Designed to create a pathway for those who may have lost their jobs during COVID-19, the course is free for those on JobSeeker/JobKeeper payments, those who are concession-eligible or under 25.
WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti said the Infrastructure Ready program is designed to address approaching skills shortages in the infrastructure sector.
“We are delivering more than $6.5 billion worth of road and rail projects across all corners of the State – ensuring we have the workforce to deliver this pipeline of work is a key priority,” she said.
“This new training will deliver job-ready workers to meet the immediate needs of Western Australia’s multi-billion-dollar civil construction industry.”
During the program, students will be taught measurement and calculation skills for the construction sector and safe work practices. Instruction on how to operate small plant and equipment also forms part of the course.
Through partnerships with industry, those who complete the program will be offered the opportunity to gain entry-level prospects. Civil construction industry contractors will be given incentives to employ and retain program participants.
WA Premier Mark McGowan said that the program will set up participants for success.
“Participants will gain firsthand experience on this unique course that will put them in good stead for work on our major infrastructure projects and for future employment opportunities.”
CEO of the ARA Caroline Wilkie writes that a cohort of young people looking for opportunities have the talents to fill rail’s skills gap.
In a year that has been more about preserving jobs than creating them, the concept of skills shortages can be a difficult one to reconcile.
However, the impact of this year’s events has not changed the fact that a very real and significant skills gap looms in the rail industry.
The Australasian Railway Association’s (ARA) 2018 skills capability study found the rail industry was staring down the barrel of a 24 per cent skills gap on current employment levels by 2024.
The gap existed across the spectrum, from technicians, trades and operators to managers and rail professionals.
Clearly, this is an area where action is needed if we are to make the most of the significant investment pipeline of the coming decades.
The National Rail Action Plan skills and labour working group, which I co-chair, is currently looking at how the industry can address this issue.
The group is bringing together key people from across the industry to inform this
work and I look forward to reporting on our progress as time goes on.
In the meantime, the ARA is continuing to advance its skills agenda.
As more rail projects come online, there will obviously be a need for the development of skill sets that are specific to the rail industry.
We will need a stronger focus on skills and education to achieve this.
The ARA is advocating for the development of a dedicated skills academy that offers targeted solutions to meet the industry’s future needs.
This will not only ensure the focus is firmly on the technical requirements of the industry but will also ensure a strong culture of safety and excellence can be embedded in training programs before people even enter the rail workforce.
And the time to create this capability is now. Because young people in particular are looking for new and rewarding career opportunities more than ever.
Even before the impact of COVID-19, conditions were not good for those just starting their careers.
In July, the Productivity Commission released a working paper that found the weak labour market that had emerged after the 2008 Global Financial Crisis had been bad news for young people.
In the decade that followed, there were full time jobs became harder to come by as part time employment began to rise.
Young people started on lower wages and found it harder to find their chosen roles, despite having a good education behind them.
For those who took a job that was less than what they hoped for just to get their start, their career trajectory did not always recover, and better jobs did not always come along.
Those challenges have only been compounded this year, with young people hit harder than most by job losses and employment insecurity in the wake
of the pandemic.
In this toughest of climates, there will be exceptional young people looking for career options that will last a lifetime, take them all over the world if they choose, and allow them to work in diverse roles on exciting projects.
What better time than now for the rail industry to step forward?
As an industry, a key part of attracting the best young people to work in
rail over the coming years will be highlighting the benefits we have to offer – both to individuals and the broader community.
The ARA’s Young Leaders Advisory Board has identified sustainability as one of its focus areas to do just that.
Speaking to the industry’s young leaders, we have heard time and again how the sustainability credentials of the industry, and the essential community service it provides, has been a driving force in determining their future in rail.
They tell us that seeing the industry’s role in helping people and businesses in their daily life is part of what makes them enjoy working in rail so much.
They also see the value of sustainable, long term infrastructure development in rail that can take more congestion off our roads and better connect our cities and towns than ever before.
The fact that the projects they work on are exciting, dynamic, innovative and ever- changing is icing on the cake.
It is these benefits that has led to many of our young leaders staking their claim for a long-term career in rail.
And it is these benefits, together with the opportunity to gain the skills needed to succeed in the industry, that will help us attract the next cohort of rail workers.
So, while we deal with the challenges 2020 has given us, we must also prepare for the growth that will follow in the years ahead.
Having the right people with the right skills in place will be key to our success.