First Bus has worked with Reaseheath College in Cheshire to create what the operator says is the UK’s first apprentice academy to train engineers on zero-emission buses.
The educational establishment, which is near Nantwich, has invested £50,000 in new equipment. A purpose-built facility is dedicated to the group’s trainee engineers. It adopts what First describes as “a work experience style environment to help instil a workplace mindset among apprentices and maintain a seamless switch from depot to learning.”
Engineering Directors and other managers from the group’s subsidiaries have had input into course content and delivery. The academy has introduced a 12-week block release. Trainees attend for a series of four, three-week classroom and practical residential visits over the course of a year.
In support of that work, First West of England has loaned its two ‘virtual electric’ Alexander Dennis Enviro400VE diesel-electric hybrid double-deckers, while nearby First Potteries is among other operating companies to have donated vehicles or equipment. It has presented an Enviro300.
Also now present at Reaseheath are First Bus’s central engineering training bus and air tools supplied by First West Yorkshire. Plans are in place for a Volvo bus to move from First Eastern Counties.
Says First Bus Engineering Director Ian Warr: “Creating this academy has needed a collective effort from our businesses around the country to ensure that our apprentices have the best start to their training and careers. We have been determined to make sure access to vehicles and equipment for technical skills development matches the superb study environment at the college.
“Zero-emission technologies are evolving rapidly as First Bus invests in greener fleets to reduce carbon and improve air quality. It is vitally important that we build a pipeline of highly skilled bus engineers with the right knowledge to maintain the next generation of buses.”
Reaseheath College Curriculum Area Manager Katie Whiteman adds that the establishment “has created a first-class apprenticeship programme for the coach and bus sector that addresses existing skills gaps.” Reaseheath “will respond to future skills requirements within the sector,” she says.
First Bus has 22 apprentices in the 2021/22 intake at the academy, aged from 16-30. Three are female trainees. It has already committed to buying no new diesel buses after 2022 and that its bus fleet will be entirely zero-emission by 2035.