A lack of global engineering talent has placed greater emphasis on developing an apprenticeship programme that is beneficial for the entire industry, to provide a steady stream of vehicle technicians who can adapt to a fast-changing environment.
Ian Warr, engineering director at First Bus, believes that the industry must continue to invest in technicians to futureproof maintenance provision for years to come.
“It’s never been more important time for training. We have a pandemic in itself with the lack of engineers, and that’s been happening for a decade or more. Apprentices are the future. They will operate with different technologies, so the skills sets must adapt, and we must make sure they can deal with a range of products that are changing. Our apprentices must be plugged in to how these technologies work from day one,” said Ian. “We have an opportunity to make real progress. Not enough has been done to encourage apprentices from all aspects of the diversity spectrum, and that is an area that we are keen to address.”
First Bus recently became a founding sponsor of the EqualEngineers’ Pathways Programme, helping to ensure that students from underrepresented backgrounds have a greater chance of finding rewarding employment once they graduate; increasing vital diversity within the engineering workforce of tomorrow. Says Ian, “Our teams, like the wonderfully diverse communities and customers that we serve, thrive when there's a rich mix of backgrounds, experiences and skills. This sponsorship is an exciting opportunity to support efforts in this space.” First Bus’ own apprentice campaign (#PoweredByPurpose) is a new initiative that aims to drive up the number of female engineers by showing how the open and friendly working environment has changed for the better, while its modern apprenticeship programmes will teach you how to maintain, service and repair a fleet of hydrogen, electric, bio-gas and hybrid buses.
But according to Ian, it’s not just the vehicles that have been equipped with the most advanced technology. Every level of the business has undergone a digital transformation that harnesses the power of data analysis and connectivity, so that communities can use its services in the most efficient way.
“Our digitisation of retail platforms has happened at such a fast rate; the whole business has diversified in a modern world. We are lucky as an operator to be playing in every field and we have some of the biggest deployments of those technologies in the sector. All eyes should be looking at First Bus,” added Ian.
Bus operators play a vital role in taking private car journeys off the road, lowering carbon emissions and improving air quality. First Bus leads the way by trialling, testing and investing in technologies that support the transition to a zero-carbon world.
“First Bus is releasing the biggest cohort of electric vehicles in the UK, and we already have the largest number of hydrogen vehicles deployed. We’ve committed to operating a zero-emission bus fleet by 2035 and have agreed not to purchase any new diesel buses after December 2022. It is necessary to consider how training needs and skills are being tuned to meet these targets, and how we nurture attitudes and behaviours towards new technology.”
During the pandemic, First Bus, which operates more than 5,200 vehicles nationwide, joined forces with industry to help NHS staff and health care professionals travel to and from work by providing special tailored services. There was also accelerated investment in customer facing technology, so that customers now have even more instant information at their fingertips.First Bus’ mobile app, Travel App of the Year winner, now enables customers to live track not only the location of their next bus but also how many seats are available, including wheelchair spaces. There is also new ‘Spacechecker’ technology that helps customers to travel during less busy times.
“We could mobilise in such a way that made good use of our services to support all our customers with a transport system to rely on. It makes me proud of what we achieved during the pandemic,” concluded Ian.