The ‘fundamental’ IRTE Skills Challenge returns

Taking place in Bristol last week, the IRTE Skills Challenge saw a range of operators participating, including two new coach firms for this year

The coach and bus industry is very good at recognising the talented people that help keep it running.

As well as national award ceremonies such as the routeone awards, individual businesses are great at highlighting the hard work of their employees; Transdev has its ‘Amazing Awards’ and National Express is very strong on recognising its drivers with its Master Driver scheme, for example.

One initiative rewarding those that keep the wheels turning “the engineers and technicians who do the inspections, who sort out the electrics, the bodywork, and the mechanical aspects of fleets” is the IRTE Skills Challenge.

Returning for its ninth year, the Challenge has hit the ground running with three brand-new sponsors, Premier Pits, Ceramex and Imperial Engineering, and two new coach operators participating, National Express and Williams Coaches.

New teams

Previous years have seen the Skills Challenge welcome strong teams from across the bus sector. This year, however, has seen two coach firms take part.

2019’s Challenge, which took place at S&B Automotive Academy in Bristol last week (3-7 June), saw 23 teams from 12 operators compete. These include: Lothian Buses, Trentbarton, Reading Buses, Williams Coaches, First UK Bus, National Express, Translink, Metroline, Go-Ahead London, Tower Transit, SBS Transit and Arriva Midlands.

Speaking to routeone, Lee Sandford, Engineering Training Manager for National Express, explains why the firm has decided now is the year to enter.

“We believe the Skills Challenge is beneficial for us in a staff engagement, motivation and moral perspective. We believe within the PSV sector that there isn’t a great deal of exposure for our technicians and this is a great way to showcase the talent of the people in the wider industry, not just National Express.”

Luke Mullally, 23, is Technical Engineer at National Express and part of the firm’s team of three participants. He says: “It’s a great opportunity to see how the industry progresses and how much changes in just a few years.

“The Skills Challenge really does set another level and puts your skills to the test.”


This year there were nine mechanical tests including brakes, transmission, tyres, component measuring and lubricants.

The electrical section had eight tests comprising an electric bus, a hybrid bus, solder electronics, chassis and test board faults.

The body section had five tests which involved panel fabrication, fibreglass, welding and defect identification.

As well as the practical tests, all sections included a written test.

Not only will winners gain a title, but there are also prizes up for grabs, provided by supporter of the IRTE, Teng Tools. Prizes will be awarded in the following categories:

  • Top Scoring Bodywork Apprentice
  • Top Scoring Electrical Apprentice
  • Top Scoring Mechanical Apprentice
  • Outstanding Apprentice Team
  • DVSA Inspection Apprentice Award Winner
  • DVSA Inspection Technician Award Winner
  • Top Scoring Electric Driveline Technician
  • Top Scoring Bodywork Technician
  • Top Scoring Electrical Technician
  • Top Scoring Mechanical Technician
  • Outstanding Qualified Team
  • Philip Margrave Memorial Award for Outstanding Achievement
  • Skills Challenge Masters.

The range of prizes on offer from Teng Tools includes socket and spanner sets, rivet guns, screwdrivers, cutting tools and for the top prize; a tool box filed with tools.

The winning engineers are due to be named at the awards ceremony taking place on 18 July in Coventry.

Industry support

The Skills Challenge forms a valuable part of the industry calendar; it’s the mechanics’ time to shine which the Ceramex team says helps “nurture the early talent”.

Marcus Beament, Head of Sales and Marketing at Ceramex, says: “Training needs to be nurtured at an early stage. if you don’t nurture at that early stage the future skills just won’t be there.”

Sean Palmer, Business Development Manager, adds: “Technicians play an integral part in the running of the coach and bus industry and the more people that support it can keep the sector moving forward.”

The Skills Challenge has 10 sponsors, three partners and two supporters.

As well as the three new sponsors, they are complemented by long-time advocates of the event including Alexander Dennis (ADL), Allison Transmission, BAE Systems, Bridgestone, Knorr-Bremse, Shell Lubricants and Teng Tools. 

Paul Hopwood, ADL Training Manager, says: “We’re delighted to be a part of the IRTE Skills Challenge as it ties in with our ethos of providing our customers with outstanding aftermarket services. It’s fundamental that the knowledge, skills and dedication of technicians is recognised and rewarded.”