November Insights from NSAR Chief Executive

October was an exciting month for NSAR and the culmination of many months of work.


We announced that we were joining the register of flexi-job apprenticeship agencies. Flexi-job apprenticeships are a Department for Education initiative to support apprenticeships in industries with less predictable contracts and working patterns.


The efforts of the industry to implement its data-led skills strategy have been commendable and impactful. The number of apprentices has been steadily increasing but this has not transferred into the supply chain. Our Board has directed NSAR to take on the flexi-job apprenticeship function on behalf of the industry to provide support to the supply chain.


Tier 1 organisations have the contracts and resources to run apprenticeship programmes, but this is often not the case for supply chain businesses. Employers are responsible – supply chain SMEs are hesitant to take on apprentices when their contract will not cover the full length of the apprenticeship. History shows us that the work keeps coming for these businesses, but their hesitancy is understandable. No one wants to let go of a good apprentice.


As a flexi-job apprenticeship agency, NSAR will employ apprentices and place them with host organisations to receive on-the-job training. Supply chain businesses can host apprentices, fill gaps in their workforce and contribute to building industry skills – with the knowledge that NSAR will place that apprentice elsewhere if there isn’t enough work for them. Coyles will support NSAR with apprentice placement as necessary.


The value is two-fold – as well as supporting SMEs to fill workforce gaps and apprentices to build in-demand skills, the initiative will help to ease the industry-wide demand for skills. NSAR is aware of the risks involved but looks forward to the challenges it will bring.


NSAR also recently released the findings of our Rail Workforce Survey, which collected (anonymised) information on 95% of people working in the rail industry. The findings interpret this data and show important information on gender, age, ethnicity, roles and locations. They show us where the industry is succeeding with workforce initiatives and where the biggest shortages will be in the coming decade – as well as the economic and social value gains to be made from addressing these shortages. The survey findings are an interesting read on the rail industry workforce and provide a great tool to compare your organisation’s workforce to the industry’s. Read the report here.


Finally, I want to note some discussions I have had this month on competency management across the industry. Competency management is always a top-of-mind topic for NSAR, because we do a lot of work in this area. We offer our own competency management system, Skills ID, we support Network Rail by quality assuring training so the industry can rely on Sentinel competencies and our Skills Intelligence Model tells us what competencies the industry will need in the future. But there is a higher-level competency management gap. The industry needs to be able to track competencies across an entire supply chain. Food for thought. Josh Brear from East Midlands Railway will be talking about competency management and what it means for EMR at the NSAR Skills Symposium on 17 November. I encourage you all to register and come along.


Neil Robertson

NSAR Chief Executive

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