We interviewed David Bean, a trainer at Atkins, an engineering company with a team registered as a Network Rail Training provider.

David has been the company's CIRAS rep for five years.  We asked David for his views on being a rep and how CIRAS can benefit training providers.  He also shared some views on how the pandemic has affected training in the sector.

What training does Atkins provide?

We do training both for our own staff and for external clients.  Among other things, we provide standard Network Rail approved training such as Personal Track Safety (PTS) and Controller of Site Safety (COSS) and also some specialist electrical safety courses.

Tell us about your experience as a CIRAS rep.

Being a CIRAS rep is fairly straightforward.  CIRAS is well established in Atkins as we have been members for many years.  As the rep, I ensure our staff know about CIRAS and how it can help them – and how to get in touch.  This includes using the CIRAS logo and contact details in our communications and briefings.  I also share CIRAS’ Frontline Matters newsletter with staff to give them examples of issues that have been raised.

How are you using your CIRAS membership, as a training provider?

We include CIRAS as part of the PTS e-learning section.  We’re relatively constrained when delivering training as to what we can add to a session, as there is a lot of mandated material to be delivered and limited time.  That said, training and its delivery is evolving.  We’re regulated by the National Skills Academy for Rail (NSAR) to Ofsted standards and part of the audit process is looking at the learners’ experience and exploring what added value we can deliver as part of the courses.  There’s also more emphasis now on non-technical skills including, helping learners understand the importance of health and safety reporting, and the different ways they can speak up.

What benefits do you think training providers gain from being CIRAS members?

It may not be immediately obvious to many trainers how CIRAS could benefit them directly.  Some may feel that CIRAS is there for people out on site and isn’t relevant to them.  However, they can raise their own health and safety concerns directly with CIRAS too – it’s not just there for frontline workers. 

As a training provider, we can add value to our own offering by using the tools and resources available from CIRAS to help promote the importance of reporting to the people they train.  Trainers hear a lot of stories and quite honest accounts of concerns from people when they attend courses.  We are in a good position to advise trainees of their reporting options, and to ensure they know about CIRAS.  We could even raise concerns on behalf of others if this would help get a health and safety issue heard.  

It would be beneficial to explore how we, as training providers, can better use the shared learning that comes out of CIRAS reports.  For example, we could use CIRAS case studies that highlight issues that people may experience when working.  If CIRAS developed more digital resources, such as videos, we could use them in our training.  

I’m aware that CIRAS run webinars to share what industry professionals are doing to tackle key health and safety issues such as mental health during Covid-19 and road risk.  As members, training providers are free to suggest topics for future webinars.

It’s important that CIRAS and training providers have an open dialogue about how to ensure we get more value out of our membership.  There could be opportunities we are missing.  

How has the pandemic affected you and the training industry more widely?

Initially the pandemic had a big impact on training.  All courses were stopped during the first lockdown, and people’s competencies were extended.  It wasn’t until August and September that we were able to start up again.  We had to implement measures to make classrooms safe – reducing numbers, cleaning and making PPE available.  We were fortunate that we had some part-time trainers who were able to increase their hours to accommodate the additional courses.  

Some aspects of training can be done online, but there is no replacement for classroom training, especially when it comes to assessments, many of which have to be done face to face.  That said, the pandemic sped up the use of online learning resources. 

One of the big things that has come out of the pandemic has been a general shift in working practices.  Many people have been pleasantly surprised at how well staff have adapted to working from home, relying more on digital resources and still maintaining their productivity.  An increase in the use of Microsoft Teams and webinars has some benefits, as often you can get more people attending an event and it takes out the need for travel.  But there is no replacement for face-to-face learning.

You can find a range of support tools in our resources and learning area, including access to case studies and reports.