Some 50 bus and coach technicians and apprentices from 10 UK operators, all of whom had competed in Bristol for the sixth IRTE Skills Challenge, attended the awards ceremony on 14 July. The annual awards – which seek to recognise excellence in electrical, mechanical and bodywork service and repair – were this year held at the JLR Experience, Castle Vale near Birmingham, with Ian Chisholm, managing director of SOE (Society of Operations Engineers, the umbrella organisation for the IRTE), SOE president Shaun Stephenson and IRTE professional sector council chair John Eastman presiding.
Victors in these prestigious awards – sponsored this year by Allison Transmission, Bridgestone, Groeneveld, Knorr-Bremse and Shell Lubricants, and supported by DVSA (Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency), MAN and S&B Automotive Academy – can hold their heads high. For not only has each of the individuals and teams been independently assessed as the best of the best, but also, this year, against an even higher standard, according to Richard Belton, deputy chief executive at S&B which hosted testing over three hot days in June.
And competition was fierce. No fewer than 19 teams (10 technicians and nine apprentices) competed from an impressive field comprising Abellio London and Surrey, Arriva UK Bus, FirstGroup, Go Ahead London, Go South Coast / Salisbury Red Bus Company, London United Busways, Metroline, Tower Transit, Translink and Trentbarton. This is serious stuff: indeed, S&B’s facilities were effectively closed to students for almost two weeks, including set-up and testing.
So what greeted the challengers? As in 2015, all entrants were tasked with undertaking a set of practical and written examinations each lasting from 25—45 minutes, with the exception of the bodywork candidates, all of whom faced a five and a half hour challenge. Again as last year, all tests were devised with assistance from the sponsors, with the event host S&B taking the lead role and also providing tools and test rigs. Sponsors and supporting organisations donated the chassis, vehicles, equipment and components, and were involved in simulating faults.
Looking at mechanical testing first, all 19 technicians and apprentices entering this category had to complete nine units – six practical and three theoretical. Examples from the practical tests included: diagnostics and set-up on Knorr-Bremse bus disc braking systems; fault-finding and measurements on the rear braking system of a MAN Euro 4 bus chassis; and fault identification and assessment on a range of Bridgestone tyres.
Others comprised: steering tests on a MAN TGX truck chassis, requiring contestants to set the geometry to manufacturer specification using laser alignment equipment; a general measurement challenge, involving crankshafts, engine cylinders and discs, etc; and DVSA’s challenge (see later).
As for the theory tests, it’s everything you might expect, with papers covering: general mechanical knowledge (vehicle, steering, braking, suspension, tyres, etc); a general inspection test, based on the DVSA bus inspection manual; and also an examination set by shell covering lubricants and fuels.
Moving on to the electrical challenges, 15 technicians and apprentices were in the running, each facing six practical and one theoretical tests. Examples included: diagnosing starting issues on a MAN bus chassis using conventional tools, wiring diagrams etc, and explaining the rectification process; and identifying faults on two of S&B’s electrical simulation panels, again using multimeters, oscilloscopes and wiring diagrams.
Contestants also had to: diagnose charging system faults on a FirstBus training vehicle and suggest remedial measures; complete fault-finding challenges on Knorr-Bremse EBS simulation boards and explain solutions; identify and test a range of components for correct functioning; build a circuit to a wiring diagram devised by S&B; and complete a general electrical theory test.
If that sounds gruelling, spare a thought for the bodywork challenge (14 technicians and apprentices competing), which involved manufacturing a large step assembly from scratch. S&B’s Belton explains that challengers had to demonstrate their capabilities in everything from cutting and folding to welding and riveting, as well as fibreglassing and vinyl floor covering.
“They were marked on the quality of work, the assembly process itself, and the appearance and fit of the finished assembly. Time was tight, but some did complete the task and the quality of their work was extremely good,” says Belton.
Finally, turning to DVSA’s own test – undertaken by all technicians and apprentices competing in the mechanical category – this involved a topside (inside and out) inspection of a new coach donated by MAN. Contestants were given an hour to complete the inspection, with DVSA examiners monitoring their every move, looking for accuracy and completeness against the PSV (public service vehicle) test inspection manual.
So how did it go? S&B’s Belton states that this year’s candidates’ skill and knowledge levels were “absolutely excellent”. Indeed, he says some of the scoring was “incredibly close”, adding that the apprentices (who faced the same tests and marking procedures as time-served technicians) acquitted themselves extremely well. “Typically, the apprentices are very competent on the electrical and electronic sides. So what they may lack in experience, they make up for in terms of understanding modern technology, techniques and equipment.”
IRTE Skills Challenge Roll of honour 2016
Top Scoring Bodywork Technician, sponsored by Bridgestone
Winner: Collin Truter, London United Busways
Runner up: Witold Wolski, Go-Ahead London
Top Scoring Electrical Technician, sponsored by Shell
Winner: Kevin Hunter, London United Busways
Runner up: Tom King, Go-Ahead London
Top Scoring Mechanical Technician, sponsored by Allison Transmission
Winner: Chris Wright, Go-Ahead London
Runner up: Stephen Cribbin, Abellio London and Surrey
Top Scoring Electrical & Mechanical Award, sponsored by Knorr-Bremse
Winners: Neil Owen and Michael Eaves, Arriva UK Bus
Runners up: Kevin Hunter and Jack Chaffey, London United Busways
Top Scoring Mechanical & Bodywork Award, sponsored by Groeneveld
Winners: Ricky Walton and Jason Williams, Trentbarton
Runners up: Craig Lillie and Brad Everett, Go South Coast - Salisbury Red Bus Co
Top Scoring DVSA Inspection Technician
Winner: Stephen Cribbin, Abellio London and Surrey
Runner up: Liam O’Brian, FirstGroup
Top Scoring DVSA Inspection Apprentice
Winner: Chris Barry, London United Busways
Runner up: Jamie Wright, Go-Ahead London
Top Scoring Bodywork Apprentice
Winner: John McKeen, Translink
Runner up: Ryan Cassidy, FirstGroup
Top Scoring Electrical Apprentice
Winner: Gavin McManus, Translink
Runner up: Thomas Hallett, Arriva UK Bus
Top Scoring Mechanical Apprentice
Winner: Eugene Arbuzov, FirstGroup
Runner up: Jamie Wright, Go-Ahead London
Philip Margrave Memorial Award for Outstanding Achievement
Winner: Martin Tomkins, Metroline
IRTE Outstanding Team Award
Winners: Witold Wolski, Tom King and Chris Wright, Go-Ahead London