Establishing the first ever train driving apprenticeship for Wales

Published date
In October 2021 the first ever Train Driver Apprenticeship for Wales was launched. This was developed by ASLEF, working in social partnership with Welsh Government, Transport for Wales, the Wales TUC, National Skills Academy for Rail and Qualifications Wales.

This Apprenticeship Week, Emma Penman from ASLEF tells us about the process and how they overcame many barriers and challenges along the way.

At ASLEF we felt it was important for train drivers to have recognition for the high level of training undertaken to obtain their “key” and gain recognised qualifications to reflect the skills set.

So, several years ago, we started a campaign for a train driving apprenticeship. 

Beginning our campaign for a train driving apprenticeship

Emma Penman, ASLEF
Emma Penman, ASLEF

ASLEF, supported by Wales TUC, started by lobbying the train operating company. In April 2019, a working group was set up specifically to develop a Train Driving
Qualification/Apprenticeship for Wales. The group comprised of Head of Learning and Development at Transport for Wales; a TUC Learning Officer; members of ASLEF Company Council; ASLEF’s Education Project Worker; Welsh Government officials, and the National Skills Academy for Rail.

The group agreed on the need for a formal qualification, so our next steps were to seek an awarding body to develop the framework and bid for funding.

The challenges we faced

Transport for Wales worked with awarding bodies to try to get the qualification off the ground but this was when we met our main challenge. The award bodies said that the number of people who would take on the apprenticeship each year was too low to warrant its development. This was obviously frustrating for the working group.

Welsh Government support

Thanks to a long history of partnership working with the Welsh Government, ASLEF was able to call on our existing relationship with Ken Skates, Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales, to explain the problem. The Minister was keen to support the qualification and, on 5 March 2020, wrote to instruct that the working group should liaise with Qualifications Wales to oversee the design of the new qualification and commission an awarding body.

The partnership process

In September 2020 Ian Thompson, ASLEF Company Council Secretary, and I attended the first stakeholders meeting with Transport for Wales (TfW) and the partner organisations who had come on board to develop the qualification: Coleg Y Cymoedd (the apprenticeship provider partner) and EAL (specialist-skills awarding body.

We agreed that the qualification would be developed from the current TfW train driver training structure. This was mapped across by EAL to create a qualification. It was set at a level 3 and developed under the Welsh Apprenticeship Framework to include Essential Skills level 2 (literacy, numeracy and ICT). EAL developed a standalone qualification – the Level 3 Diploma in Train Driving.

In January 2021, when the main body of the qualification was laid out, ASLEF took part in TfW cohort of train driver apprentices on enrolment day with Training Team & ASLEF Project Worker an official engagement exercise which brought in Welsh Government and Skills Academy Wales to the stakeholder group to officially endorse the work.

On 8 February 2021, EAL Level 3 Diploma in Train Driving – C00/4312/6, gained approval from Qualifications Wales with an operational start date of 1st March 2021. Following a four-week public consultation exercise (sharing the qualification with organisations such as ASLEF, Learning Providers and Train Operating Companies) the Welsh Government gave approval to progress to acquiring apprenticeship status.

Launching the Train Driving Apprenticeship scheme

TfW cohort of train driver apprentices on enrolment day with Training Team & ASLEF Project Worker
TfW cohort of train driver apprentices on enrolment day with Training Team & ASLEF Project Worker

A lot of work then went on behind the scenes, by our stakeholder partners, to bring the initiative to fruition. In August 2021 the first ever Train Driving Apprenticeship for Wales was established and over 40 apprentices enrolled with Transport for Wales in October 2021. 

TfW hopes to recruit around 100 apprentices every year for the next five years. This exciting initiative is a great achievement and came about through the true spirit of collaboration.

Diversification in the Train Driving Apprenticeship scheme

ASLEF will remain involved in the apprenticeship programme at Transport for Wales through our social partnership. We will continue to support new apprentices and work with Transport for Wales to diversify recruitment programmes and support additional training needs.

Currently only 4 per cent of train drivers in Wales are female so we are heartened to see that 7 per cent of the current apprentices are female. One of these women told me:

"I think the apprenticeship we have been offered is a wonderful opportunity to have the job recognised with a formal qualification. The support on offer is excellent in terms of building on what I am learning to further my career within the railway industry and I’m looking forward to the completion."

Helen Ward from Cardiff

Watch Emma and others talk about the new apprenticeship scheme.