Addressing the trainer shortage
The Electrical Rail Signalling program, at North Metropolitan TAFE’s new $5.6 million METRONET Trade Training Centre, is being developed in Perth to address the chronic shortage of signallers across the country.
One of the significant challenges in offering training in this area has been to find suitably qualified trainers.
It’s a Catch-22 situation being felt across the rail sector. A chronic skills shortage is putting pressure on companies to offer salaries so high, trainers are rethinking their career path and returning to their trade.
“.. the greatest current skills challenge of all, … is having an adequate number of trainers to meet demand.” BIS Oxford Economics
To address this dilemma, North Metropolitan TAFE has been working with the rail sector on a number of new initiatives.
“We need to come up with solutions and we need industry to be part of that solution,” said North Metropolitan TAFE’s General Manager Training Services, Lyn Farrell.
One solution is to encourage employers to help update a lecturers’ “industry currency”.
Industry currency refers to the trainers’ ability to show that their technical skills are the same as those currently being used by industry. It is a requirement of all VET trainers across Australia.
This model was used to get the METRONET rail signalling course back on track after its sole trainer returned to the workforce. A TAFE lecturer found to replace the trainer lacked up-to-date experience in specific areas. The Perth Transport Authority, which runs the city’s urban train system, stepped in to help by giving the lecturer the experience they needed.
Linking subject experts with training professionals
Another initiative being trialled is to encourage industry to adjust their timetables so workers with expertise in their field can provide short blocks of training onsite.
“We’re wrapping up the units of competence into tasks,” said Lyn.
“Rather than providing learning unit by unit, we will send blocks of tasks to companies and ask that an industry lecturer adapt them to their workplace.”
TAFE will provide experienced lecturers to assist with the assessment process and help shape the learning to the work environment.
“We ‘scaffold’ around the subject expert with training and assessment experts,” explained Lyn.
“This model is being developed with a number of our industry partners.
"They are willing but the difficulty is finding ways to take people out of the workplace without worsening the skills shortage.”
Mutually beneficial exchange
This challenge could be addressed with TAFE’s proposed worker exchange program.
“We get a rail company worker to come in and do some training and we send them one of our lecturers who has the skills they need," said Lyn.
“Our lecturer gets their currency up and in exchange we support the rail workers to get a Cert IV in training and assessment which can be useful on site.”
Helping new recruits into rail
North Metro TAFE is looking to increase the number of rail signallers by opening up its courses to people outside the rail sector.
“We’re the only public RTO in the state that offers signalling training (to people not already employed in rail),” said Lyn.
While this could significantly increase the pipeline of available signallers, it adds to the pressure to bring on board more trainers.
“With one trainer we can train 20 people at a time. At the moment, we’re committed to meeting industry demand, so we’re focused on taking in people already working in rail.
“If we had more trainers, we could open up the course to anyone with an Electrician Cert III. If enough people applied, we have the capacity to train many more signallers every year.”
The METRONET Trade Training Centre is Western Australia’s first public facility dedicated to training specifically for the rail industry. Stage 1 including the introduction of the Certificate IV in Electrical Rail Signalling is complete. Programs to skill workers in construction and the maintenance of rolling stock are scheduled to start in early 2023.