This week, the team from BCIMO exhibited at a hands-on skills event for school children and young people at Wolverhampton Racecourse in Dunstall Park. Designed to inspire youngsters across a broad range of sectors, the event was an opportunity for BCIMO to offer an insight into the world of rail via a ‘go’ on their tram driver training simulator.

In a variation on a theme from traditional informational and conversational careers events, the ‘Inspiring the Black Country’ event provides its young visitors with a chance to try different practical skills – from pulling pints (of tea!) in the hospitality sector to tiling walls in the building and maintenance sector – and this year the high tech Transport Systems Simulator proved to be a big hit!  The BCIMO team were absolutely delighted to welcome a succession of local schools, including both mainstream and SEND groups from Year 7 to 13, and even more so to see the excitement as pupils learnt to ‘drive’ the tram and navigate the city centre ‘landscape’.

The simulator was developed for the Coventry Very Light Rail (CVLR) project, and so focuses on a virtual rendering of the city’s streets, with real-world tram elements, including signalling and stops, where drivers need to pull up where needed and wait for passengers to alight. As such, pupils had to learn not only the stop-start controls, but how to deal with on-road layouts and hazards safely, and to operate brakes and doors correctly. Yet despite the complexity of the dashboard, indicative of a very light rail vehicle, many exhibited real talent, with one young man showing particular aptitude, noting that he wanted to ‘be a tram driver’ when he grows up!

The technology within the Transport Systems Simulator provides a real insight, not just into the vehicle and driving aspect, but also the complexities in design and infrastructure of rail systems, which encompasses the breath of the work BCIMO undertakes within the sector. So, as an alternative to the CVLR programme, the simulator also includes a virtual view of the Rail Development & Test Site at BCIMO’s Very Light Rail National Innovation Centre in Dudley, complete with key features including the Rail Test Loop and Tunnel, plus Split-Level Platform, Siding and Rapid Charger.

This potential for those seeking inspiration and information, and so considering their future career options, even at such an early age, through practical insight into job roles and discussions with those working within the sectors, is absolutely essential. The enjoyment of such a broad spectrum of ideas was evident as the BCIMO team also wandered around the venue too, talking to both other exhibitors and those attending. There was a real sense of ‘something for everyone’ as the Black Country showcased its opportunities for young people, coupled with advice on their pathway into careers, through academic and/or vocational learning routes. And from disco lights to the drumming corner, the atmosphere throughout the day was really positive for all.

The event was a huge success with organisers and visiting schools having this to say:

Jessica Murray, Assistant Delivery Manager at the Black Country Skills Hub, said:

“This is our third year running the Inspiring the Black Country event and we’re pleased to see that over 800 young people have once again had the opportunity to learn more about the businesses and career paths local to them.

“The event allowed young people to understand the world of work and identify real roles that are available in the future. By providing key insights, we are enabling our next generation of workforce and talent to understand the skills and qualities that are required by our employers.”

Lisa Willets, SEN/Careers Administrator at the Wordsley School in Stourbridge, specifically said:

“We would like to thank you for the experience our pupils had with yourselves at the Careers event last week. The pupils were really impressed with the simulator and had a fantastic time driving! Thank you to the staff that spent time talking to our pupils. We thoroughly enjoyed the event this year, the pupils really thrived taking part with the interactive and hands-on activities.”

Staff at Heath Park School in Wolverhampton, reflecting on the event on their website, said:

“This careers trip was a fantastic success, providing our students with valuable experiences and information to help them make informed decisions about their future.”

Continuing the Skills Theme…

With very much a skills focus this week, BCIMO also had the pleasure of welcoming Elev8 Training, a recently acquired PM Training & Assessing company, for their apprentice celebration event, held in the Meeting & Event Spaces at the VLRNIC. Elev8 offer a range of apprenticeships, including in rail engineering from Level 2 to Level 4, and alongside the broader PM portfolio which delivers training for the Institution of Railway Signalling, again reflecting the breath of skills and opportunities for young people embarking on a career within the rail, light rail and very light rail sub-sectors.

The day began with a reflection on the parent organisation from its owners, before time for the apprentices to get to know each other better with a practical and fun icebreakers. After lunch, there were more talks, along with the all-important presentation of certificates and awards; but also more elements designed to be a little more light-hearted, although with a purpose. Of note was a novel feedback session, within which a coloured beach ball was thrown around the room to apprentices, each of whom then reflected on their own journey through the programme. The positivity and energy in the room remained tangible throughout the day… a real celebration.

Through its own flagship Clean Futures programme, BCIMO already works hard on developing innovative skills within clean technology, but the organisation’s ‘Workforces of the Future’ remit encompasses the variety of skills needed both now and for those future generations. In February, the VLRNIC became home to the new Transport, Rail and Infrastructure Academy developed in partnership by the City of Wolverhampton College and National Infrastructure Solutions (NIS) to provide the advanced skills required for jobs in the construction of train lines and tram routes so essential to the West Midlands’ transport and decarbonisation strategies.

The comprehensive, world-class facilities offered by the Centre, which includes the Rail Development & Test Site, Engineering Laboratories & Equipment and on-site offices and training spaces for staff and students, are an extension of the provision currently offered at the College’s Wellington Road campus in Wolverhampton. But here learners, both those new to the industry or already working within it, have the opportunity to see knowledge in action far beyond the classroom within a live rail setting and across real-world scenarios, and develop through to those higher-level skills so vital to sustainability and growth of the region and the national economy.

Pam Martin, owner of PM Training and Assessing, reflecting on their event via email and on LinkedIn, said:

“BCIMO was an ideal venue to celebrate the achievements of Elev8 Training’s Rail Apprentices. The room easily held 50 people, and allowed enough room to enable interactions during the day. The professionalism made it a special event that was attended by apprentices, their manager and tutors.

“The venue was fantastic and allowed everyone to participate in the day. Great food too!”

The BCIMO team will be taking their Transport Systems Simulator to a number of other regional events over the next few weeks, including the Godiva Festival in Coventry on 6th and 7th July, a STEM learning and skills pop-up event entitled ‘My Future, My Potential’ at the Merry Hill Centre in Brierley Hill on 9th July, and a careers ‘now and then’ event at the Black Country Living Museum on 10th July… look out for updates on all these events on the BCIMO LinkedIn page.

For more information on BCIMO and the VLRNIC please visit the BCIMO Website or Contact Us to make an enquiry.

BCIMO is a not-for-profit Research and Technology Organisation (RTO) and operator of the Very Light Rail National Innovation Centre (VLRNIC), a unique, world-class centre for rail innovation based in Dudley in the West Midlands.

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