Enhancing the engagement and efficiency of rail training

Having a skilled and competent workforce is vital for rail organisations. In addition to mandatory competencies to keep rail workers and passengers safe, the success and competitiveness of an organisation can depend on the expertise and adaptability of its employees. Fostering a culture of continuous learning and development has emerged as a strategic imperative.

Employers can be hesitant to invest in learning and development despite the numerous benefits. One concern is the loss of productivity that can occur when employees take time out from work to participate in training. Another is the cost of training and backfilling for the person undertaking training. There is also an uncertainty with the return on investment of training. Measuring the impact of learning and development on the bottom line can be challenging and this uncertainty can make employers cautious to allocate resources towards training.

NSAR data shows that the overall number of training days undertaken by rail employees is decreasing. This is at a time when the industry is facing many changes – an ageing workforce, new technology, the introduction of green technology and big new projects, all of which are creating skills shortages.


Film-driven learning: Transforming training

NSAR spoke to Pete Stevenson from The Edge Picture Company about film-driven learning and how The Edge is using it to transform training for individuals and organisations. The Edge Picture Company is a production company that specialises in creating film-driven learning resources.

Film-driven learning is the use of educational film-based media within an online or in-person training programme. The benefit of film-driven learning, Pete explains, is that it makes training more interesting and engaging – increasing the retention of ideas and skills. It is also an excellent way to condense information and get people through training quicker and back on the job sooner.

“We’re human beings – if we have to do something that feels boring for an extended period of time, we may be physically present, but not mentally,” Pete explains. Film-driven learning offers a fresh perspective by employing engaging narratives to awaken learners’ minds, encourage active participation and ignite curiosity. By harnessing the emotive power of film, learners are prompted to lean into the learning experience, fostering a deeper understanding that endures beyond the training session.


Benefits for organisations

The advantages of film-driven learning extend beyond learners to organisations. Pete points out that by integrating film-driven learning, courses can become more efficient and concise while delivering the same – if not greater – impact. He cites a project the Edge did for telecommunications company Openreach as an example. Each of the 22,000 engineers working for Openreach had to undertake the same five-hour training course every year. The Edge was asked to condense that five hours of material down to 45 minutes.

“It was really about asking two crucial questions: What do people need to know now? And what do they need to about where to find information in the future when something comes up?

“We also needed to change the tone of voice. It’s not the company telling you, the employee, to pay attention and then go away and don’t mess up. Instead, it’s delivering the training peer-to-peer. ‘We know you know some of this, but things still go wrong. So it’s important that we just remind you and check that you’re up to speed.’”

Of the 10,000 engineers who did the new Openreach course in the first four months, over half chose, voluntarily, to spend extra time to find out more information. Pete says, “That really encapsulates a shift – from employees having to do training that they are not interested in and want to get through as quickly as possible, to training they pay attention to and understand the importance of. And the course is still running – when you get these things right, it gives you longevity.”

The new course gave back operational time – a four-hour time saving across 22,000 engineers, estimated to save Openreach £2 million every year.


Complementing traditional and online learning

Film-driven learning complements both face-to-face and online learning. Pete explains, “Typically, the quality of the training will depend very much on the calibre of the individual delivering that learning. It’s less of a problem if you’ve got someone brilliant because they will energise people. But the smart use of film within face-to-face training – to get people motivated about why the training is important and how it’s relevant to them – will enhance those great trainers.

“If you’ve got a less capable trainer, film-driven learning will have even more impact. It will generate better conversations, more discussion and better absorption of the key messages.”

In industries facing trainer shortages like rail, film-driven learning provides a dual remedy. Pete proposes identifying segments of training that can be effectively delivered online, freeing up valuable face-to-face time for practical applications and group discussions. Additionally, highly skilled trainers can be harnessed as virtual trainers, offering condensed and impactful content that alleviates the pressure on face-to-face delivery.


Bridging the gap for a range of skills

Film-driven learning is applicable across a range of skills. While it excels in developing behavioural skills crucial for safety and risk management, it also elevates technical training. Pete contends that behavioural skills often underpin technical failures, making them essential for preventing accidents or mishaps. By merging real-world scenarios with film narratives, film-driven learning bridges the gap between soft and hard skills, fostering a more holistic understanding.

The Edge Picture Company has collaborated with Network Rail on several projects. They have just finished work on a course on fault-finding techniques. Another piece of work for Network Rail was an e-learning course to educate Network Rail employees on the social model of disability, aiming to shift assumptions about the experiences of disabled passengers and colleagues, along with the barriers they face.

“We were careful not to present disabled people as victims but to give them agency; we used real disabled passengers’ stories and experiences. But we’re also using scenarios and storytelling to show how easy it is to get things wrong and what you need to remember to get it right. It’s a good example of the potential to really bring a difficult subject to life.”

In an industry where the stakes are high, rail organisations must consider innovative approaches to training. Film-driven learning, as championed by The Edge Picture Company, makes training engaging and efficient, saving both time and resources. Through real-world success stories like Openreach and collaborations with Network Rail, film-driven learning is bridging the skills gap, ensuring a skilled and adaptable workforce. As the rail industry faces transformative changes, embracing this training method is a great tool in the box for companies wanting to save time and money and increase competitiveness.

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