NCATI and the University of Birmingham launch rail apprenticeship with parallel foundation degree


The National College for Advanced Transport & Infrastructure (NCATI) is welcoming a cohort of 37 apprentices onto the Level 5 Rail & Rail Systems Engineer apprenticeship, which for the first time in the history of the qualification will have a University of Birmingham foundation degree taught alongside the apprenticeship content

The brand new three-year programme will provide learners with an apprenticeship alongside a foundation degree in Civil & Railway Engineering or Electrical & Railway Engineering, depending on the specialism most relevant to each person’s role. The apprenticeship itself will also be delivered across different pathways according to each apprentice’s specialism, including: rail-specific civil engineering; rail track; rail signalling and control; rail systems & integration; rail traction and rolling stock; and rail telecommunications, network and digital.

It is well documented that the rail sector needs thousands of newly skilled technical and professional workers over the next five to ten years, and the Rail & Rail Systems Engineer apprenticeship is designed to develop learners’ core rail knowledge while training them in the specific skills needed now and into the future.

Joining this first cohort of apprentices are 33 employees from Network Rail, as well as staff from Siemens Mobility and Bechtel. Speaking about the unique opportunity this upskilling programme will provide their employees, Guy Wilmshurst-Smith, Head of Professional Development & Training at Network Rail, said:

“Network Rail Training is reality excited about working with NCATI and the University of Birmingham to develop a new generation of engineers. We welcome the opportunity for our apprentices to learn side by side with fellow members of the industry.”

This unique qualification will also help learners develop solutions to industry-specific problems, with the first module focused on an Integrated Design Project that is employer-sponsored and aimed at solving real-life railway challenges. Garvin Okoror, Senior Curriculum Lead for NCATI, said:

“This upskilling programme presents a really special opportunity to work with some of the best and brightest talent already working in the industry, many of whom have had several years working in rail. We want to make sure we add as much value to this experience as possible, working with the Institution of Civil Engineers, Institution of Engineering and Technology, and the Permanent Way Institution to give apprentices Engineering Technician professional status within the first year of the apprenticeship. What is more, these employees will complete the programme with a qualification from a world-leading Higher Education institution.”

The University of Birmingham is known across the world for the high quality of its teaching, consistently ranking amongst the world’s top 100 institutions. Not only that, but in the specific area of rail, the University is one of only two higher education providers in the UK offering an undergraduate railway degree, and one of three offering a postgraduate programme in rail engineering. Since being incorporated into the University of Birmingham Group in April 2021, NCATI has benefited hugely from this collaboration, drawing upon the University’s rail expertise in the form of shared lecturers and the delivery of programmes that respond to industry demand.

The launch of the Level 5 Rail & Rail Systems Engineer apprenticeship programme in parallel with a foundation degree is a great example of this. Professor Clive Roberts, Head of School of Engineering and Director of the Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education at the University of Birmingham said:

“Engineers and senior technicians who understand the railway and the railway system, and where their specific function fits into the system, are vital for the future of Britain’s railway. The Level 5 Rail & Rail Systems Engineer apprenticeship paves the way towards a workforce of professional engineers in the rail industry. By working with our NCATI colleagues to develop foundation degrees which incorporate both general engineering and railway topics, we are enabling learners to benefit twice-over from their apprenticeship study. The foundation degree is taught in parallel with the apprenticeship standard and will give learners valuable engineering education as well as those all-important transferrable and study skills which will benefit their future careers as well as their immediate jobs. Furthermore, the foundation degree can be topped up in future to a BEng and professional recognition towards Incorporated Engineer and then Chartered Engineer status.”

NCATI and the University of Birmingham plan to deliver this new qualification on a yearly basis; rail employers interested in upskilling their employees are invited to get in touch by emailing [email protected] or calling 0330 120 0375.