A common approach to rail safety is being supported by a common approach to rail training.
With no prior knowledge of the rail industry, Omada’s graduate engineers have been introduced to the complex and rewarding world of rail signalling.
In early March, Omada launched their graduate program with the goal of increasing one of the rail workforce’s most lacking resources, that of rail signalling engineers. Nicholas Soilleux and Nathan Murphy were the first two engineers to join the Omada Rail Systems graduate program.
Soilleux joined Omada with a Bachelor of Engineering (Honours), majoring in Electrical and Computer Engineering, from the University of Queensland. For Murphy, joining Omada was an insight into an industry he had previously known little about. Having recently graduated from Queensland University of Technology with a Bachelor’s Degree in Electrical and Aerospace Engineering (Honours), he had also completed an engineering internship at Aviation Australia.
“It was only once I joined the rail industry that I realised how important and integral the signalling field is to the safe and effective operation of railway networks,” said Murphy.
Having gotten a glimpse of the industry as it stands, Murphy acknowledged the great potential that the rail industry holds for young engineers.
“This is a great opportunity to work in a very stable field, with many future career paths. A great benefit is being able to work under the mentorship of skilled and experienced engineers who have all been amazingly helpful.”
With their appetite whetted for what was to come in a career in the rail industry, Murphy and Soilleux were quickly inaugurated into the world of rail signalling under the guidance of Omada’s directors Luke Craven, Mark Hadfield, and Christopher Miller, along with Signalling Design Engineer and Tester, Neil Shineton.
Over the course of the three-year program, graduates will complete their Post-graduate Diploma in Railway Signalling, while being involved in practical work including design, testing, and construction work.
During the first months of the program, a new challenge arose. To comply with restrictions caused by COVID-19, Omada shifted to working from home in late March. Training has continued through this shift utilising video calls to conduct online training and tutorials. These are complemented with exercises, such as filling out example control tables for interlockings. But despite having to working from home, the progress of the training program has not been restricted. As Murphy pointed out, major achievements have been made.
“I have achieved Metro Trains Melbourne (MTM) assistant signal design competency and have been able to design circuits for a project that I’ll hopefully see implemented,” he said. “Gaining competency to go on site and being able to get into the real nitty gritty of the signalling systems and the real- life application of the signalling designs has been a real milestone.”
Having been introduced to the contemporary world of rail signalling, Murphy also highlighted that the technology he is working with now is a far cry from what previous generations of signalling engineers would have grappled with.
“Signalling systems are extremely complex and integral to the safe and effective operation of the networks. I’ve been able to see how the systems design for the railway has developed since its first inception in the early 1800s in England.”
These insights have emerged through Omada’s inhouse Basic Signalling Training (BST) course, delivered in the first year and providing the basis for further training
over the three-year program. The BST course is designed to expose those with no background in rail to the complexities of the industry and enable them to build on a base knowledge of signalling principles, work on site safely and competently, and effectively use design tools and software such as MicroStation.
Just two months into the program, Murphy and Soilleux were able to get first-hand experience on Omada’s project at the Rail Academy in Newport, Victoria. While under mentorship and strict guidance, the graduates collected the information needed to upgrade the signalling equipment at theAcademy. The aim of this project to upgrade the signalling infrastructure, is to result in the Rail Academy being one of the best equipped specialist rail training facilities in the world.
With Murphy and Soilleux now halfway through their first year of training, in September another new face joined the program. Gavin McDowell, who had a previous career in electrical engineering, took the opportunity to involve himself in the graduate program as a way to begin a career change into rail.
Similar to Murphy and Soilleux, McDowell saw the opportunity to be part of an expanding organisation.
“I was motivated to join Omada as it is a rapidly growing company with lots of experience working within the railway industry. I was also motivated by their goal of becoming the leading provider of railway signalling engineering services in Australia,” he said.
Already, McDowell has been exposed to the different railway standards and networks while gaining an insight into design procedures, interlocking systems, and track circuits, providing a foundation for his future career.
Omada will soon be looking for candidates to bring into their graduate program’s second intake. If you or someone you know are interested in joining the
rail industry, Omada’s graduate program is a strong platform for personal and professional development.
Thales is investing in the local workforce to enable rail’s next generation to fill the digital skills gap.
A new model of collaboration could be the workforce solution for a labour-constrained industry.
In 2018, after years of waiting, work began on the full electrification of the Gawler Rail Line. A critical project to modernise Adelaide’s rail network and allow for the introduction of electric rollingstock, the relatively small size of the rail sector in South Australia presented an obstacle for the project – how to get the right number of qualified people to work on the project.
An issue not uncommon to rail projects around Australia, the limited supply and ageing demographic of the rail workforce means that labour shortages are a significant issue, said Angela Henderson, national operations manager of Momentum Rail Workforce Solutions, a specialist rail services and personnel provider engaged for the project.
“The challenges are that there is really a set amount of qualified people with the correct competencies to do the roles required for this project and we need more than what there is in the pool,” said Henderson.
The specific roles that the project required were protection officers as well as stopboarders. Staff in these roles play a safety critical role in managing the traffic coming in and out of the worksite. To meet this need, Momentum joined forces with sister company rail training provider CERT Training (Centre for Excellence in Rail Training) to provide the staff with the required level of competency to work on track.
Initially, the project has focused on the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) owned section of rail, which requires specific knowledge of ARTC safe-working rules. Getting staff to this level of competency took a combination of theory and practical knowledge, said Michael Arthur, CERT general manager.
“The staff need to be trained up on the ARTC safe working rules, and the process for that is a combination of formal training in the classroom and also on-site training and mentoring them with experienced Momentum staff members
to get them to the level of knowledge and capability to perform those duties on their own.”
So far, three groups have been conducted through the program, with training for each combining in classroom and on-site instruction taking two months.
What made this project possible, was the unique combination of CERT’s training capabilities with Momentum’s workforce solution. Momentum has collaborated with a job provider to find suitable candidates, while CERT has ensured that they have the required qualifications to be on the worksite. By working with a job provider, staff have been drawn from outside the rail industry and from a diversity of backgrounds, including women, long-term unemployed, people from minority backgrounds and Indigenous people, overcoming the traditional demographics of the rail industry. On the Gawler project, this has meant for those roles covered by Momentum, staff have not had to be poached from other projects.
“What we’ve found is that we’ve been able to enlarge that pool of required people for the project,” said Henderson.
Momentum’s experienced senior employees then mentored these employees to be ready to productively complete the work required, said Arthur.
“Through the mentoring process, the trainees get to consolidate their learning, and once they’re able to prove that they are competent, we get sign off from our trainer that they’ve passed the theoretical and also demonstrated that in a practical environment, then we can issue them their qualification for safe working.”
In this program, CERT and Momentum, both companies under the Engenco Group umbrella, have been able to combine their distinct abilities.
“Together we can offer a complete workforce solution to our clients and that’s exciting,” said Henderson. “By coming together, we bring that expertise together and we offer a very good product to our client.”
As Anthony Fritsche, executive general manager – Workforce Solutions outlines, the outcome is more than a job, and more than a training qualification.
“It’s actually about offering a full pathway, when you put training and labour together you offer a whole onboarding, employment, and career development program. The full value chain in human resource solutions.”
A COLLABORATIVE WORKFORCE SOLUTION
In the case of the Gawler project, the collaboration would not have been possible without buy-in from the lead contractor, in this case Lendlease. Rather than mandating that staff have 6 to 12 months of experience before working on the project, the contractor trusted CERT’s ability to appropriately train staff before coming onto site, said Henderson.
“The way the project is structured, the new staff can work under another protection officer, and is directing them. They’re able to get the experience required through that process by having that more senior person there constantly to assist them.”
The on-site supervision is backed up by CERT’s rail training heritage, with training built upon industry experience, highlighted Arthur.
“We make sure that our trainers have industry leading backgrounds and experience in all the different disciplines that they deliver. We have subject matter experts that create the resources internally and we work very closely with operators in the industry, to make sure that everything that we’re using is current. Then we work closely with Momentum to ensure that the training programs that we have available are adequate and fit for purpose for their staff when they go out on site and meet the needs of the rail operators.”
With the staff now out on track working, there is the opportunity for them to take these skills further in the rail industry. Some will add competencies to their skill sets as the project moves from ARTC track to rail controlled by the South Australia Department of Infrastructure and Transport, while others will be able to take the skills they have learnt so far and apply them to new projects, creating a pipeline of skilled, competent and experienced rail workers.
“Having entered with no background at all, the opportunities for them to develop and work their way through the system is endless,” said Arthur. “They can go as far as they want to go.”
With the experience on the Gawler project, there is also opportunities for the model to be applied to other areas of the rail industry. Already, CERT and Momentum are working with a national freight operator to find, train and deliver drivers, terminal operators, and shunters.
“Operators recognise that there’s an ongoing demand for drivers that isn’t being met through traditional means,” said Arthur. “We’ve worked with them to put together a program now where we’ll take people with no rail background and run them through a series of training programs that includes vocational placement that will allow them to gain practical experience and ultimately the plan is to work them right through until they become qualified drivers.”
With labour shortages a critical issue for the rail sector as a whole, innovative workforce models such as this will be critical for the sector’s future.
“The traditional way of offering a dollar more than the next operator down the road to pinch their staff is a very short-sighted model and not one that’s going to be sustainable,” said Arthur.
“Whether the projects be safe working, infrastructure, or driving operations, we’re looking at programs across the country and where we can provide our clients a pipeline of staff who are new entrants to the industry. They are trained specifically for that operator in their rules and procedures, and then through Momentum, we’re able to place those people into employment. It’s effectively providing a customised, tailored workforce solution that’s implanted into a client’s business and then able to grow to meet their ongoing demand.”
Fritsche highlights that this workforce solution will be key for the rail industry to meet the demand for skills and labour.
“This model will be able to increase the pool of talent in a structured way. We’re building a fit for purpose workforce of the future through this type of model, drawing upon different demographics and because we’re providing the training, the skills, the knowledge and the employment, then we can control that whole process ensuring an effective and sustainable outcome.
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DB Rail Academy brings 185 years of rail operations expertise to the training of rail staff.
The rail renaissance is clearly not a phenomenon that is confined to Australia and New Zealand. Globally, investment in rail is growing, with the sector tipped to continue to grow despite COVID-19 as governments look to environmentally friendly mobility infrastructure as a way to stimulate economies.
Major new rail projects are continuing in younger markets as well, with new tracks being laid in countries in the Middle East, Africa, and Southeast Asia where rail has previously not played a large role in moving people and goods.
Across many of these projects, experts from some of the more established and technically advanced railways have been brought in to advise and consult on the construction of new rail lines. Deutsche Bahn has drawn on 185 years of rail heritage in Germany, and with DB Engineering and Consulting GmbH (DB E&C), the expertise is compiled in order to advise rail engineers, rail operators and public entities around the world. However, Doreen Christmann, strategic business development manager for DB Rail Academy, Deutsche Bahn’s full-service training provider for the global rail and transport sector, pointed out that the job is not complete when the final sleeper is laid.
“If you want to implement a new railway line, you need to have qualified staff beforehand,” said Christmann.
Seeing that the need for well-trained and qualified staff was an ongoing exercise, DB E&C established the DB Rail Academy to provide ongoing training and education.
“We established the DB Rail Academy four years ago with a more strategic and comprehensive approach. To stay with the customer and to support and guide them through the whole process after the establishment of the project and once the operation had started,” said Christmann.
DB Rail Academy launched in 2016 with its first customer in Dubai, where the local Roads and Transport Authority is in the process of establishing new automated metro lines, a tram network, as well as buses and ferries.
“We began by supporting them in the establishment of their entire qualification system. One of the results is that they now have a training centre based on our recommendations,” said Christmann.
In addition to newly established transport authorities, the DB Rail Academy has also been embraced by transport operators in Latin America who are investing in renewing and expanding their rail networks. In other countries that have a longer history with rail, such as India and China, the company can provide training in upgrading to the latest systems and processes, highlighted Oliver Stoffel, business development manager at DB Rail Academy.
“We have larger countries, with a longer history of railways, that need assistance in terms of transition from older standards and technology to state-of-the-art technology,” he said. “Then we have countries which are already very professional in the rail industry, Singapore springs to mind, where it’s more about the exchange of experience and being a sparring partner to our customer and client.”
In Australia and New Zealand, DB Rail Academy can support new projects in geographies that have not been served by rail, or enable operators to migrate to new technologies as part of their revitalisation of rail services.
A NEW APPROACH TO TRAINING
While having the right skills to meet the rail investment boom is an issue that is facing Australia and New Zealand, there are issues with low numbers of drivers and staff that are already impacting existing networks.
Transport operators have often been caught short and have had to cancel train connections due to a lack of personnel. With a higher number of drivers, guards, and station staff rail operators can expand the number of services and compete with private freight operators who are also hiring from the same pool. Robert Wagner, regional director Australia for DB E&C noted that knowledge transfer needs to occur.
“The competencies are there and really focused in the experience of the older staff, but there’s no one that’s actually transferring this knowledge to younger people who can take over when these staff retire. This is something here on a broader scale, how do we train staff in general, not only train staff, but also train controllers and train attendees and others?”
When it comes to training the next generation of rail workers, DB has the advantage of knowledge and experience.
“Academic training or training from schools and universities is more theory, and what you miss is the real problem and realising in the day to day course of a business the operational issues that you only face if you’re working in this business,” said Christmann. “This covers not only the best practices but also the lessons learned along the way, what mistakes did we make, what we learnt out of it, and how can we improve?”
Currently, DB Rail Academy is in discussions with established training operators to bring its training methodology to Australia. Developed with the Technical University of Kaiserslautern, units within the DB Rail Academy are collaborative and interactive.
“It’s not the kind of learning where an expert is standing in front of a bunch of people. In our training courses it’s working together on issues, finding solutions together,” said Christmann. “We go into the depot or workshops or to the train control centres, talk to the people and really see how it is working.”
Locally, these methods have been applied in the delivery of new transport infrastructure such as the Canberra Light Rail. DB E&C was engaged for the project, and through DB Rail Academy, provided the training for the trainers of light rail drivers on the new network.
“We developed the curricula and the content so it can be taught, and we were present when the first driver trainers were trained, and then they trained a whole bunch of the drivers in Canberra on the system,” said Wagner.
This example illustrated how a rail project goes beyond the physical infrastructure required to get the system up and running.
“We as the consulting engineer, reviewed the works they had done outside on the line, the overhead catenary, the depot and so on, but also adding our knowledge in terms of well, what do we actually need to have enough train drivers available and suitably trained to the date of commencement of operations,” said Wagner.
Having this hands-on training and support ensured the system was a success from day one.
With rail organisations having to respond to ever more complex events, having a workforce management system that can adapt is critical.
No matter how well-developed a plan is, it is only as good as how it is applied. When it comes to rail scheduling and planning, the most workshopped, tested or modelled plan will be judged against how it delivers on the day of operations.
“It’s relatively easy to develop an efficient master roster but where many of the available market solutions fall short is their ability to monitor and respond to emergent changes once that plan is being executed through the day of operations,” said Cameron Collie, senior business consultant for Dassault Systèmes.“In rail, there are numerous unplanned changes that can impact or change who you’ve got available on the day and so it can become largely irrelevant how good your original plan is if 20 minutes into the day of operations things change and your planning assumptions become invalid.”
Collie has worked with rail operators to apply the Dassault Systèmes DELMIA Quintiq application to overcome these challenges. The system, used by global rail organisations such as Eurostar, Swiss Federal Railways and Amtrak, provides rail operators in the freight and passenger sector with a dynamic and flexible workforce management platform that enables long-term planning and demand forecasting for planned events.
“The types of events that need to be taken into consideration by planners include leave planning, special events that may be occurring, such as grand finals or royal shows that cause variations in the demand and variations due to holiday periods, for example there might be reduced running over Easter or Christmas periods,” said Collie.
“In freight, we often see seasonal variations. Typically the movement of grain is very seasonal, and you need to have different plan options to address those. Then of course there’s the requirement to maintain the rail network that can cause outages and cause disruptions to the plan that you’re seeking to resource.”
To ensure that these planned and foreseen events are taken into consideration, Collie has worked with rail operators to forecast and model trends to account for seasonal variations. These models are supported by scenarios. When an event occurs, planners are able to manually or automatically undertake a comparative analysis of available scenarios to see what will deliver the best outcome. Employees can also self-manage shift swapping through a mobile app, reducing the demand for intervention and ensuring the plan stays on track.
But what happens when something unexpected occurs?
One of the most common unplanned events can be staff calling in sick. As an integrated workforce management system, the Dassault Systèmes DELMIA Quintiq software can see where shortages are occurring.
“During day of operations, we can see unplanned absences from people calling in sick, which can be fed into the Dassault Systèmes DELMIA solution either via a mobile app or a sign on clerk,” said Collie.
“What happens then is any activities that are allocated to that staff member are unallocated. Anything they had assigned moved into the unassigned activity bank and then the planner would then look to assign those activities to one or more other people and there’s a range of alternatives they can do that through.”
The tasks can be reassigned manually or by using optimisation filters to select the most appropriate staff member.
“You click on the filter that shows the available and suitable staff to complete that activity. Available means making sure that they’ve got nothing planned in that timeframe and suitable, particularly in the case of train drivers, is making sure that they’ve got all the relevant route knowledge, and traction knowledge to perform the task,” said Collie.
“Alternatively, we’ll see late variations in demand and the requirement to run new train services or cancel train services for whatever reason,” said Collie.
Caused by a multitude of reasons, the late running of services on the day itself can also lead to pressures on staff.
“The trains are trying to run to a schedule, and variations to that can upset the deployment and disposition of your staff and where their next duty may be.”
Drawing on information from the scheduling system or traffic management system, the Dassault Systèmes DELMIA Quintiq application then references this against staff profiles and filters for requirements such as limiting fatigue and tiredness, or even meal break requirements.
“The key capabilities required are the ability to receive real-time inputs from all available information sources and then for that to trigger automatic conflict and constraint protection,” said Collie. “We’re talking about if a driver is driving one train and that’s late, then he is going to be late to his next driving duty, which may be not on the same rollingstock set, so all of those things are automatically detected to assist the planner in identifying the things that need a level of intervention.”
To lessen the need for rapid decision making, and to remove the chance of human error, the software provides automated decision support enhanced by ongoing optimisation, explained Collie.
“We’re aiming to make that as simple as possible through scenario-based menu options, rather than driving the need for a planner to perform atomic transaction level changes.”
These changes then flow through the entirety of the operational plan, without the need for follow-up changes.
“As we get notifications of variations to the operational timetable, we will update the internal timetable version. We have a bespoke technical capability called Propagation, whereby once we receive notification of any variation, consequential changes ripple right through all the objects in the database, and each time an object changes in value, that in turn invokes any rules associated with that object variable,” said Collie.
“In that way, not only can we tell that the train is running late, but we can immediately determine that the allocated staff member is not going to be able to make his next train duty or it’s going to impede on his meal break or he’ll get to the statutory limits of his footplate or driving time, resulting in the requirement
for an emergency replacement driver.”
Responsiveness during day of operations can be as real time as the as the data can be supplied to the Dassault Systèmes DELMIA Quintiq application.
A MORE FLEXIBLE FUTURE
Driving the push towards greater optimisation and automation is Dassault Systèmes’s focus on the KPIs that rail organisations are accountable to. When it comes to footplate time – the amount of time a driver spends driving a train – optimisation within the planning software aims to balance workforce requirements against the operational demands.
“The optimiser can be running in the background at all times and as those real time events come into the system the optimiser can identify and act and resolve those where applicable,” said Collie.
Beyond increasing efficiency, at the core of the system is an understanding of what motivates rail organisations.
“If we consider the train drivers or the guards then the single biggest key business driver that we’re trying to achieve is to make sure that no train service is cancelled or delayed as a result of the unavailability of train crew. All of those technologies that we have available to us, propagation, automatic constraint, and conflict checking and optimisation are key to this.”
Coming out of the experience of 2020, where COVID-19 impacts threw workforce planning into new light, ensuring the resilience of rail organisations in future will come down to having the most efficient and effective way to manage any number of unplanned events and possible plan outcomes.
“In the first instance, you’ve got uncertainty in terms of whether you’re going to have increased absenteeism because people are coming down sick and how to deal with that, you have of course the social distancing requirements, so you can only have reduced numbers of staff on hand at any one time, so all the operational norms pretty much go out the window,” said Collie. “It’s highly variable and you need the ability to be flexible with that.”
Two leading participants in the Women’s Professional Network (WPN) program are Kamakshi Rambhatla and Sharon Davis. From differing backgrounds, both attested to the value of the program in bringing together employees and creating opportunities for growth.
Rambhatla joined Bombardier Australia in 2011 as an electrical engineer after holding roles as a software engineer at General Electric and before that for a company that made simulators for aircrafts for the Indian Airforce. Taking on the role of Testing and Commissioning Engineer in 2017, Rambhatla has worked on Bombardier’s VLocity trains, the Melbourne LRVs and Adelaide trains.
For Davis, working at Bombardier was an opportunity for her to re-enter the workforce after having children. Starting out in marketing and communications, for the past six years Davis has filled the role of HR business partner. In addition to roles on the Melbourne and Adelaide fleet, Davis also worked on the Rail Systems Alliance project.
Both were involved in the Women’s Professional Network and found the connections enabled them to expand their skills to new areas.
“WPN has given me an opportunity to interact and work with some exceptionally talented people I would have never crossed paths with otherwise,” said Rambhatla. “Such platforms encourages one to explore one’s interests and passions along with broadening one’s network, learning new skills and sharpen existing skills along the way.”
Davis explained that the WPN led her to work outside of her specific area and in her case began working on bids as well as strategies to grow the pipeline of women.
“Diversity and inclusion is often considered the domain of human resources. But for diversity and inclusion to thrive, people managers at all levels of the organisation need to own it and walk the talk, from the very point of job design.
“More recently there has been the opportunity to review the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the flow on to redesigning wellness programs across the business,” said Davis.
With training and development selected by the members of the WPN as the highest priority, both Rambhatla and Davis has been involved in passing on skills and knowledge.
“It was my privilege to host interns in the testing & commissioning department and for the WPN program at BT,” said Rambhatla.
“It was immensely satisfying to mentor interns from under-graduate, post graduate and professional development programs and give them an in-sight into of how things are done in the ‘real world’. It was gratifying to know that the students felt a sense of accomplishment at the end of their internship, knowing well, that their contribution was valued and was being used.”
With these experiences so far, Davis has been able to broaden the impact of the WPN to beyond Bombardier by working with the ARA and St Kilda Gatehouse.“The way we operate as a company and contribute to the communities in which we work are key drivers of the change effort,” she said.
As Rambhatla highlights, the rewards have been both personal and professional.
“If I can through my presence or interaction, inspire students or fellow women to consider a career in rail, I would love to be part of that journey – their journey.”
Bombardier’s efforts in Australia to grow and maintain diversity within its workforce are at the core of what makes a successful rail business today.
In late September, a milestone was reached at Bombardier Transportation Australia. The date marked 12 months since the launch of the Women’s Professional Network (WPN), an internal empowerment group for the women employed at Bombardier’s sites around Australia. To mark the occasion, a photo taken earlier in 2020 was published on the manufacturer’s social media sites showing the Melbourne base WPN members, and a few male staff, standing in front of a newly built VLocity train set at the manufacturer’s Dandenong facility.
Demonstrating the commitment to diversity from the top down, standing at the front of the group were Victoria’s Minister for Women and Prevention of Family Violence, Gabrielle Williams, Australasian Railway Association (ARA) CEO Caroline Wilkie, ARA Chair Danny Broad, CEO of the St Kilda Gatehouse, Stacey Aslangul, and president of Bombardier Transportation Australia and New Zealand Wendy McMillan.
“Diversity has many faces but the WPN is a shining example of grass roots work that is being done in our business to help lift our female colleagues in their work with Bombardier Transportation,” McMillan said to acknowledge the project’s milestone.
The significance of having a leader like McMillan is not lost on Rahul Kumar, head of human resources Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asia at Bombardier.
“It starts from the top. Most of the diversity and inclusion initiatives have to be top driven, so the leadership buy in is key for us and we’re very lucky to have Wendy as president.”
Kumar has been part of a core team that has been leading a push on diversity and inclusion at Bombardier in Australia. Avoiding large, complex projects that lose momentum and fail to be implemented, Kumar has focused on grassroots initiatives such as the WPN that can be sustained over a long period.
“If we’re going to be focussing on diversity, let’s bring women together. Most of the work is done outside of HR by testing and commissioning engineer Kamakshi Rambhatla. What started as just an effort of getting women together has now resulted in mentoring programs, we’ve had workshops being run by local speakers and we’ve had our local member for Dandenong and the Minister for Women, Minister for Prevention of Family Violence and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Gabrielle Williams come and address them.”
In the 12 months since its launch the WPN has not only improved the careers of those involved and connected women from Bombardier’s sites across Australia but has inspired a movement of sorts with other WPNs being born in Southeast Asia and India. Today, over 20 mentoring groups run under the WPN banner, and an award and recognition program highlights those who have gone above and beyond.
“We now get 20-30 nominations consistently every month,” said Kumar. “At the start, we had to go and ask, ‘Do you want to nominate someone?’ Now it’s changing from a pull to a push system.”
While the program has driven engagement internally, Kumar is aware of the challenges of attracting not only women, but young people, and people from a variety of cultural backgrounds to the rail industry. However, this has not dissuaded Kumar from trying.
“Everyone keeps telling us we don’t have female graduates, we can’t find females in shop floor roles, we can’t find tradeswomen. It’s a reality too, and it’s not easy to find if you advertise, but we said, ‘Are we going to stop at this problem or are we going to find a way?’”
In addition to the traditional pathways into a manufacturing career such as apprenticeships and graduate programs that Bombardier offers, development plans were put in place to provide pathways for those who maybe not have been able to access the same training and education opportunities or who did not come from a traditional rail background.
One of these was TRANSIT. Set up by the Level Crossing Removal Authority (LXRA), the initiative highlights potential rail careers to those from other sectors that were in decline, in particular the automotive sector. Also, in collaboration with LXRA, Bombardier partnered on GROW, which seeks to introduce people from marginalised or disadvantaged backgrounds – including asylum seekers, refugees and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – to training and employment opportunities in the transport and construction industries. A third program that Kumar invested in is the Overseas-Qualified Professionals program, run by Melbourne Polytechnic, which provides a pathway for those with international qualifications to have their training recognised in Australia.
“In a conventional world, individuals from these programs would have found it difficult to get through because they either didn’t have the skills, the background, or the education,” said Kumar. “We have broken those barriers; they prove themselves during internship programs and they considered against any open position in Bombardier.
“We focused on these unconventional ways of getting talent in and once they’re in, then we make sure that they have a buddy and a mentor to put them on the journey.” Most of our OQP employees are doing a fantastic job, said Kumar.
These approaches are leading to success at Bombardier, with the female workforce introduced to manufacturing roles working on the Dandenong shop floor, another first in Bombardier’s long history at the site. There are six women working in various roles currently, and recently, two more female electricians have been selected to join the manufacturing workforce. A similar very structured approach is being followed in our services site in West Melbourne, where we now have four female employees in shop floor roles.
“Now we are starting to see cycles building, so all those efforts now are seeing fruition after a two-year journey,” said Kumar.
A now common element of corporate reporting is metrics which measure diversity. Often measured at the board level, these metrics can also be across a company as a whole. For Bombardier, the company globally tracks the number of women in management roles.
Beneath these headline figures, Kumar points out, is a focus on ensuring there is a pipeline of diverse expertise, and not only based on gender. In addition, diversity is not always captured in clear percentage figures.
“What we have done locally is look at how many women we have in succession plans to leadership because we always need to invest and ask if we have that pipeline of talent. Then we also look at diverse nationalities. This is a hard one to track in a place like Australia. For example, I myself came from India and I moved here in 2004. So, when I put my application down now what do I call myself, an Australian with an Indian background? I would not because I have got an Australian passport, I am Australian. We have done informal mapping, and in Dandenong itself we have over 30 different nationalities represented in some shape or form.”
Another focus is ensuring that the diversity is spread throughout the business, and not only in roles that are traditionally associated with a gender or cultural background.
“Sometimes there are good numbers on diversity but that 10 per cent or 20 per cent figure is skewed because a chunk of it is getting picked up by these traditional functions. In Australia, we are focusing on where we struggle, and that is in what we call conventional rail roles, and that’s building trains, maintaining them and also rail signalling,” said Kumar.
The final area that goes beyond a simple statistic is the retention rate. A diverse hiring policy is no use if the staff come and go through a revolving door, so Bombardier is looking closely at the reasons for a person leaving the organisation to see where it can do better.
“Most people will say I’m going to a new company for career progression but why could we not provide those avenues internally? We will track that to gather that information and then try and make some initiatives to bridge those gaps,” said Kumar.
THE VALUE OF A DIVERSE ORGANISATION
While academic research has proven that diverse organisations are more productive and profitable, as Kumar points out, for an organisation like Bombardier the value of inclusion is self-evident. With products and services operating in over 60 countries and approximately 36,000 employees, working across cultural boundaries is essential.
“Having a workforce that’s inclusive is the cornerstone of delivering projects, that’s how we survive.”
For example, the high capacity signalling system for the Metro Tunnel Project in Melbourne that Bombardier is delivering as part of the Rail Systems Alliance, brings together Australia and Thailand based teams along with other sites around the world. Similarly, the locally designed New Generation Rollingstock for the South East Queensland network are a collaboration between Bombardier teams in Australia and India.
“If we are not a diverse and inclusive organisation, we will start to see it in our delivery, in our products in the way they’re made and developed,” said Kumar.
In 2021, Bombardier will be doubling down on these efforts in Australia with the introduction of a hiring process that is blind to gender, sexuality, religion, marital status, and age, to remove any forms of unconscious bias.
“We are almost ready with a standard format,” said Kumar. “When CVs come in, they come in all fancy shapes and forms, some have got a vision statement, some have got objectives, so we’re going to remove that. We’re going to standardise our format. We’re going to say if someone is interested in Bombardier we want you to put your inputs into these broad categories and we don’t want your name, we don’t want your sexual orientation, religious beliefs, whether you’re married or not, your date of birth and also any reference to your gender.”
While such company-wide efforts are making a difference, as Kumar points out, there are stories every day that showcase why it is always important to keep a focus on diversity and inclusion within rail.
“In 2019, one of the graduates from the GROW community was telling me that he was the first in line from his whole family to ever get into a professional job. He had a double degree in engineering but was working part time as a home removalist. There was a graduate position coming up and I got a call from our LXRA contact saying you should have a look at this young engineering graduate. I said, ‘Not a problem, we will put him through the process.’ Now that guy is doing a fantastic job based in our West Melbourne site.”