Setting the standard

Setting the standard Setting the standard
Having the capabilities of bus and coach fitters confirmed by an independent and respected third party isn’t just reassuring for their employer; it’s reassuring for the passengers who ride on the vehicles they maintain too.

Such confirmation is available through irtec, a voluntary accreditation scheme set up by the IRTE – Institute of Road Transport Engineers – Professional Sector of the Society of Operations Engineers (SOE) that assesses the safety and competence of technicians. The scheme was re-launched in January.

Those who take the irtec test are assessed on both their theoretical and practical skills and granted an irtec licence if successful.

Awarded at a variety of different levels – the service maintenance technician level was recently updated – and in several vehicle classes depending on the technician’s skills and experience and the industry sector he or she works in, the licence is valid for five years. Listed on a national register and bound by a code of conduct once a licence is issued, the holder has to undergo reassessment for it to be renewed.

A twice-yearly newsletter – irtec Insider – is produced specifically for people with licences.

SOE is not working in isolation. Last year it joined forces with IMI – the Institute of the Motor Industry – and IMI Awards Ltd, and the latter now manages irtec’s quality assurance programme. That includes the approval of new irtec testing centres as well as the monitoring of both assessments and assessors.

From the employer’s viewpoint, using licensed technicians should ensure a higher standard of maintenance, less vehicle downtime, and reduce the risk that, for example, faulty brakes will not be noticed during servicing. If that happens then the consequences could be a black mark from the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency, some unwelcome interest in what’s been going on from the Traffic Commissioner or, worst of all, a serious accident.

From the technician’s viewpoint the licence may make it easier to find another job because the standard it denotes is so widely recognised.

A growing number of operators are starting to appreciate the benefits the licence can bring, says SOE business development manager, Will Reeves.

“First Group for example intends to put all its technicians through the irtec scheme over the next few years,” he says. “Its initial focus will be on the 400 or so staff who carry out vehicle inspections.”

The new inspection technician module addresses the ability of individuals to identify and diagnose faults accurately to ensure that the correct repair is carried out.

Using licensed technicians makes it a lot easier to demonstrate to the authorities that a rigorous maintenance regime is in place says Reeves. It could also bring some useful PR benefits.

Highlighting the high standards achieved by the fitters who look after your buses will do your image in the area of the country you operate in no harm at all he points out, and could be of benefit if you are tendering for contracts.

Irtec’s advantages are being promoted by the IRTE Skills Challenge.

Arriva, First Group, Go-Ahead, Ipswich Buses, Metroline, National Express, Stagecoach and Translink are pitting their fitters against one another in a bid to see them crowned highest-scoring electrical, mechanical or bodywork technician.

The operator’s team that achieves the greatest overall engineering success will be recognised too.

Based upon irtec, the practical elements of the challenge will take place at City College Coventry. The winners will be announced during a reception at the Houses of Parliament in London in June and the entire challenge is being sponsored by Allison, Bridgestone, Cummins, Knorr-Bremse and Shell FuelSave Diesel.

The SOE has been busy in other areas as well.

Last year it awarded Heavy Vehicle Gold Academic Partner Status to City of Bristol College’s new Heavy Vehicle Training Centre at Orpen Park. The award allows the college’s Transport and Engineering Technology Courses to be industry-recognised.

Even the smartest technician can quite literally stumble. Hopefully those who attend a new course developed by Alec Horner, managing director of training company Minimise Your Risk, will be less likely to do so.

It concentrates on health and safety in the workshop, addressing everything from preventing slips trips and falls to ensuring that employees know how to lift things without hurting themselves. “Years past most people in workshops never received any training in manual handling,” he observes.

It stresses the importance of risk assessment too. If for example heavy items have to be lifted then the danger posed to the individuals involved should be reviewed and handling aids installed where possible and practical.

Much of the course is based around a Health and Safety Executive publication entitled ‘Health and safety in motor vehicle repair and associated industries’ (HSG261).

The course takes trainees one step closer to meeting the requirements of the driver’s Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC). Some technicians are also part-time bus and coach drivers typically on school work, says Horner, and part-timers will be as obliged to hold a CPC as their full-time colleagues.

Compulsory training for the CPC for existing drivers was introduced in September 2008.

Those who fail to complete 35 hours of suitable training split into five courses lasting at least seven hours before 10 September 2013 will not be able to work after that date because they will not be granted a CPC.

All CPC courses and the businesses delivering them – including operator-owned training schools – have to be approved by JAUPT, the Joint Approvals Unit for Periodic Training.

If you have only just passed your PCV test then you should have obtained an initial CPC qualification too. However you will still be expected to complete 35 hours training during the five years after you got your qualification to keep your entitlement.

The introduction date differs, but truck drivers are having to come to terms with the CPC too.

Concern has been expressed by a well-known training company specialising in the freight industry that a number of truckers who have taken their test recently are breaking the law because they have not obtained their initial CPC and are thus driving illegally. It was unable to say if the same thing is happening with new PCV drivers, but bus and coach firms would do well to check.

“As far as periodic CPC training is concerned a lot of operators were aware that they had to do something but were hanging back,” says Brian Jolly, driver CPC contract manager at TCAT; Telford College of Arts and Technology. “However we are now seeing a big increase in the number asking about CPC courses –they’re aware that the clock is ticking – and we are getting more bookings.”

John Pepperell of Phoenix Training agrees with Jolly that interest in CPC training is growing. “We’re now getting some of the smaller operators coming to us and we’re running courses as far afield as Shetland,” he says.

One of Phoenix’s most popular courses is what Pepperell describes as its three-in-one course for bus drivers.

Held over two days, and aimed in particular at those who regularly transport schoolchildren and vulnerable adults, as well as providing 14 hours of CPC training it enables the trainee to obtain an Appointed Person’s First Aid certificate. That is in addition to a certificate of successful training and entry onto the National Register of Trained Drivers and Escorts/Attendants maintained by the National Association of Council Contract Transport.

“It tackles everything from dealing with passengers who suffer from, for example, autism or dementia, to passenger and wheelchair restraint systems, the correct use of passenger tail lifts and vehicle evacuation.” he says.

“We find that vehicle evacuation is a popular topic,” says Horner. “We use a smoke machine to simulate the effect of a coach being on fire, but you always have to be careful to let the fire brigade know what you’re doing in case somebody going past thinks the fire is real.

“Indeed the whole topic of what to do in an emergency – what you should do if, say, a passenger has an epileptic fit or if the coach breaks down on a level crossing – attracts plenty of interest.”

With today’s vehicles becoming even more complex the need to have the correct test and maintenance equipment is paramount. But according to documentation specialist Transport Stationery Services, what operators may forget is that even though the equipment is there and that the staff are fully trained to use it, there is a need to have the correct policies and procedures in place to record that the work has been carried out and any defects correctly identified and rectified.

“We provide wallplanners to allow you to plan your maintenance periods for the following 13 months, vehicle inspection sheets to allow you to check and record your vehicle safety inspections and drivers daily check pads to allow drivers to record defects in writing, as required by the Traffic Commissioners and VOSA,” says the company’s Graham Ellis.

“In addition to these services our sister company, Ellis Transport Services, offers consultancy services to assist operators in achieving compliance with O licence commitments and to carry out independent audits of fleet maintenance operations.”

Some operators with their own in-house training facilities are offering CPC courses to third parties.

Among them is East Yorkshire Motor Services, with course topics that include customer care, disability awareness, tachographs and the Drivers’ Hours rules and SAFED; Safe and Fuel Efficient Driving.

“Our courses are mainly delivered in Hull but we can hold them at the premises of other operators too if required,” says training manager, Darren Kendrew. “We feel that the fact we’re operators as well gives us that bit more credibility.”

“Unfortunately there are still employers who think the government will abolish the CPC and it will all go away,” Pepperell observes. That is not going to happen however given that it is European legislation that is being implemented, he says; nor should it, say training specialists Nationwide, because the industry needs to redouble the attempts it makes to educate its workforce.

Aberdeen-based Whyte Transport Training offers a range of courses including Drivers Hours & Legal Duties, Customer Care and Safe & Efficient Driving, with costs from £49 + VAT per person and discounts for a CPC management contract.

Whyte’s courses run at its own newly-opened training facility or at an operator’s premises.

Despite the efforts put in by industry bodies, employers and trainers, 28 per cent of the workers in the passenger transport sector in the UK either have no qualifications (13 per cent) or qualifications below National Qualifications Framework Level 2 (15 per cent) according to the Sector Skills Assessment Report for 2010/2011 from GoSkills. In Northern Ireland, 50 per cent of passenger transport workers have either “zero or minimal qualifications”.

Admittedly the report encompasses employees in sectors such as rail, aviation and inland waterways as well as those working for bus and coach companies although with 174,000 workers, bus and coach firms represent the largest sector in terms of employment.

 Admittedly too it does not take into account the vocational licence held by PCV drivers; a qualification they must hold in order to do the job. Nor does it take into account the MiDAS award for community transport drivers.

That said, it is clear that the bus and coach sector has plenty of work to do when it comes to up-skilling and re-skilling its workforce; and it is work that will have to be undertaken at a time when resources are at a premium.