More than 60 bus and coach technicians took part in this year’s IRTE Skills Challenge, held at S&B Automotive Academy. John Challen  was there to see how they got on
The 2024 edition of the IRTE Skills Challenge once again presented the opportunity for bus and coach technicians from across the industry to impress judges with their aptitude, analysis and capabilities when it comes to fixing engineering problems. In total, the competition brought together a total of 64 participants within 11 teams. The great and the good of the PSV sector were represented, with competitors coming from, to name just a few, Arriva, National Express, Stagecoach West, Metroline, First Bus and Go Ahead. 

“Now into its 13th year, the IRTE Skills Challenge is an important part of the industry because it gives engineers the opportunity to get out of the depot and put their skills to the test using the latest technology in the market,” explained Emma Thompson, head of business operations and designate executive director of the Society of Operations Engineers. “They can they go back to their workshop and talk about what they’ve learned and their experiences of the competition to colleagues. It’s an important initiative for the IRTE because it supports apprentices and engineers with their progression within the industry.

“We are constantly in discussions with sponsors and partners to ensure we have the latest technology and tests with the Skills Challenge,” she added. “That process is specifically done through technical committees which evaluate how we can build on the success of the competition.” One of the sponsors who has returning to the Skills Challenge in 2024 was Alexander Dennis. And Laura Tofts, head of product information and training, was impressed with what she saw. “It’s important to recognise the work that the competitors are putting in to get to the level they are at,” she said. “Our training department has courses from apprentice to master technician and it’s nice to be in among them here, talking to the participants and finding out what they’ve learned. The quality on show has been really impressive because the people taking part are very competent, mature and skilled.“ 

Elsewhere, one of the new sponsors for 2024 was VARTA. “One of the key reasons for being involved was that the companies taking part are big users of our batteries,” explained Vince Ward, key account manager, VARTA. “That means they can have issues with batteries that can be caused by preventive maintenance, so we want to help try to introduce a robust preventive maintenance programme. It’s important for them to understand the different types of battery technology and ways to test – and also take into account factors such as seasonality and the state of charge.”

Ward said that the quality of the technicians taking part had stood out. “None of them have shown any nerves and done their best to work out things when they don’t fully understand something,” he reported.

Another long time supporter of the Skills Challenge is Imperial Engineering’s John Simmons. “I was an apprentice 50 years ago and have been involved in training for the past 20-odd years and worked with apprentices who are now engineering directors. So I’ve seen the progression and what is possible from people who are willing to work hard and learn to the best that they can be,” he said. “The Skills Challenge allows them that opportunity to test themselves and show what they are capable of.”

Freeway was a returning Skills Challenge sponsor and managing director Patrick Tandy said there was a complete alignment between the company’s focus and the IRTE Skills Challenge. “We offer fleet management systems and it‘s a great opportunity to not only showcase our product, but also to give something back to the industry and support the engineers within it,” he stated. 

“There are a lot of focused people here who are taking the opportunity to showcase their skills and work with colleagues and competitors to create a great environment  for achieving engineering excellence.” 
The winners of the IRTE Skills Challenge 2024 will be announced on 11 July. News on the triumphant participants will feature in upcoming issues of Transport Engineer.

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