Apprenticeships: Unlocking industry potential

Apprenticeships are a valuable path into any career, and there is more than one way to enter the coach and bus industry

It is a mixed and varied people that have applied for Abellio London’s bespoke training programme. With the opening of its new Southall depot in West London, a centre of excellence for driver training, Abellio says its apprenticeships scheme is proof of its serious investment in the future of London transport.

A 14-month training period will see the applicants inducted, trained, and assessed to be qualified bus drivers. The training will incorporate many of the recent initiatives begun by Transport for London (TfL) – such as Vision Zero, its campaign to eradicate death and serious injuries on London’s transport network.

At the end of the training, each driver will hold a professional National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) Level 2 certificate.

Speaking to routeone, Urmish Patel, Head of HR at Abellio London Bus, says the NVQ is crucial in drawing candidates.

“Rather than just giving drivers a licence, we’re investing in their future. The NVQ qualification will allow them to set up anywhere within or outside the industry,” says Mr Patel.

“We took our time in developing a bespoke programme which looked at all the elements and assets within the role of driving the bus – while also incorporating lots of other training programmes,” he adds.

Just the beginning

A demonstration of abellio London's driver training, using a special livery double-deck
Bus driver training at Armstrong Way

Bus driver apprenticeships are just the beginning for Abellio. According to Mr Patel, the company is already moving into engineering apprenticeships, with the goal to have dedicated centres where Abellio will work with its engineering directors on establishing a centre of excellence for engineering.

The concept is that each depot will receive an engineering apprentice to allow them to grow their career and create a programme where they get on-the-job training.

Scheduling apprenticeships and – potentially – a broader management apprenticeship programme will come, too. The driver scheme is just the first stepping stone in establishing a more extensive strategy.

Another draw for candidates is the guarantee of payment – and of work afterwards.

“One of the fundamentals of the bus apprenticeship programme is that, at the end of it, they’ve got a job,” explains Mr Patel. While some companies will train drivers up in a matter of days to work a specific route, Abellio’s 15-day driver training establishes a standard allowing its drivers to handle any situation.

“We’re investing more time and effort,” he explains. “It’s not a simple case of showing them the ropes and giving them a licence. You’re incorporating a learning essence approach, building their capabilities up. It’s about being innovative and different in order to retain drivers.”

The scheme will also go some way to removing stigmas, according to Mr Patel – both around the perception of apprenticeship schemes, and of bus driving as a profession.

“Apprenticeships are not advertised enough,” he adds. “I think there’s still the old stigma around apprenticeships. From a government perspective, they need to do more in realising the potential of apprenticeships and selling them.

“You’ve got to remember, it’s not just new people coming into the industry – it’s about giving staff the ability to promote internally.”

Mr Patel suggests that, as buses and the technology involved gets more advanced, services improve and the role of buses in moving people in London is realised, the perception of drivers will also change.

Multiple avenues

Further north at Bouden Coach Travel, CEO Adel Bouden is keen to get young people onboard and offer training and further employment from apprenticeships.

Hannah Moore is one apprentice who has reaped the benefits – and is one of 10 finalists for Rising Star at the routeone Awards.

Bouden Coach Travel offers a variety of different apprenticeships – including administration, accounts and marketing.

Building skills within the company, combined with further education, is what makes the firm’s approach attractive.

It looks for candidates who are self-motivated, willing to learn and prepared to do more than their job role might initially involve.

Offering candidates a platform in order to gain experience, rather than someone who simply fits the job, allows better growth within the company, says Ms Moore. “There is an emphasis on workers here, and ensuring everyone’s needs are met,” she adds. “If someone starts from an apprenticeship, they build a relationship with the whole team and the Director. It’s a chance to learn, grow, and gain experience.”

This, she says, leads to better retention and wellbeing within the company – goals shared with Abellio.