PRIVATISATION, deregulation and restructuring of the world railway industry have highlighted a need for recognised qualifications for staff at all levels, according to Gerard Langes, CEO of Transport & Distribution Training Australia. Addressing a seminar in London on September 10 organised by Rail Training International, he instanced a private firm which took over part of a state railway and then spent almost A$10000 on consultants ’simply to find out what the staff were capable of doing’.

TDT is one of 23 national training bodies formed by the Australian federal government, industry and unions to bring order to a situation in which each state set its own standards, registered its own training organisations, issued its own licences, and failed to recognise qualifications issued elsewhere. Over the past year or two, TDT has been working to develop a structured portfolio of vocational qualifications for the whole Australian transport and logistics industry, which Langes felt might offer guidance to other players in the world railway market.

Langes identified three elements to the qualifications package: benchmark standards for the whole industry, with performance criteria, a guide to the range of variables within the job function and a guide to evidence needed to test the trainee’s ability; assessment guidelines for the training organisation to meet national or state requirements; and a qualifications framework setting skill levels and grading structures. He saw this leading to generic qualifications applicable across the whole sector, with individuals able to select a ’basket of units’ at each level to suit their specific job.

With new entrants to the industry looking for efficiency improvements, Langes felt there was a need to chart and enhance workforce skills. The disappearance of the post-war ’job-for-life’ stability on many railways highlighted the need for mobility between employers and even industries, and clear standards would help to identify a ’training equivalence’ between workers in different jobs. He suggested that international benchmarking of standards may be required as the new breed of train operators transfer staff and skills between their various subsidiaries across the globe.

Langes also identified an ’hourglass’ trend of cross-modal applications. Workers at the lowest levels required a common grounding in basic safety skills, for example, while senior managers increasingly have to be aware of developments in logistics, distribution and other modes. In contrast, technicians and junior managers need more industry-specific skills.

Dismantling of state railways is leading to the disappearance of in-house training and the rise of specialist private-sector training organisations, although as yet management courses are largely the preserve of universities and polytechnics. Some seminar participants expressed concern that railways might not endorse specific courses because of future liability implications, and that only a serious accident would establish the lowest baseline for safety training. Langes felt that a well-prepared portfolio of standards and assessment criteria combined with healthy competition among providers would soon allow operators to judge the relative merits of different training schemes. Time will tell if he is right. o