PHILIP PAULEY explains how augmented and virtual reality could be the key to attracting a new generation of high performing engineers and delivering the Digital Railway
In December 2016, the National Skills Academy for Rail, Rail Supply Group Rail Delivery Group and the Department for Transport gathered the rail industrytogether to launch the Rail Sector Skills Delivery Plan.
The industry plan is to recruit 100,000 people into the rail industry to plug the skills gap and keep the country moving forward as demand for both passenger and rail freight shows no sign of slowing down. The Government has committed, through the Transport Infrastructure SkillsStrategy, to produce 30,000 new apprenticeships by 2020 of which 20,000 have been targeted in rail. The aim is for 20 per cent of the entrants to be female and a 20 per cent increase in black, Asian and minority ethnic.
So as an industry our challenge is this, we need to recruit 100,000 highly motivated people. In the engineering discipline we are competing against the automotive, aerospace, construction, energy and oil & gas sectors all of whom have an established culture of driving innovation and have proactively formed relationships with schools, universities and the military.
In order to compete against these other sectors in the battle for talent, dare I say it, we have to make the railway sexy. One way to achieve this is to educate our future and existing workforce that in railways we are utilising leading cutting edge technology and embracing accelerated ways of learning as the catalyst to engage the exciting digital railway journey ahead of us.
Embrace technology or risk falling behind
Britain’s railway must take advantage of new technology in order to improve services, industry leaders urged the sector in an open letter to the Times: “To respond to the challenge of a huge increase in rail journeys and people’s expectations rising faster than the improvement in services, the railway must harness new technology and change the way we work,” the letter read.
Other industries have been through these changes. Now it is the turn of rail, critically important to the future of our nation. By exploiting technology and smarter working, we can make train travel more reliable, more accessible, more affordable and more comfortable, creating new jobs in the sector and enabling manufacturers to grow the British economy.
Earlier in the year PAULEY (Interactive) were invited to attend the World Skills Show to showcase a virtual reality experience of the new National College for High Speed Rail (NCHSR) alongside an augmented reality experience for HS2 by Plotr.
It was clear that these technologies attracted and engaged more potential young talent. NCHSR and HS2 have started to advance the process by embracing innovative and immersive new technology in recruiting the railway workers of the future to maximum effect.
Faced with communicating with a gaming generation whose every waking moment seems to be spent interacting with mobile devices, the answer to engaging the next generation seems quite simple. Communicate with the digital natives in a language they are familiar with. By communicating in a methodology that inspires and reassures them that a job in the railway of the future will use this technology as a matter of course. We need to teach young engineers that becoming a digital railway man or women will offer them a dynamic career for life and a passport to work anywhere in the world.
Technology in action
Immersive training technology for the rail sector has been tried, tested and pioneered by PAULEY Interactive Ltd at the National Training Academy for Rail (NTAR). Collaboration with NTAR has resulted in multiple awards being won over the last year for driving innovation in learning and development.
By digitising course material into immersive content we have been able to successfully reduce learning time and maximise competency of our future engineers; their feedback on the new digitised methodology has been astounding!
Looking at both track and train as a whole, we are developing more immersive course content and tailored maintenance, safety critical and operations material which can be delivered fully immersed in touchscreen, augmented and virtual reality solutions. Within these digital environments and step by step processes there is no need to worry about safety and taking someone directly into a dangerous environment as you can teach them first in the classroom or more importantly, at the point of need.
Some may argue there is nothing sexy about the railway; the rain, the hours, the hoop jumping, the frustration etc, but a career working on the UK railnetwork will give the next generation of digital railengineers a passport to utilise leading edge technology and travel anywhere in the world.
We believe our future digital railway has the potential to be very sexy, full of immersive technology and will give an aspiring engineer (and existing workforce) the digital skillset to embrace a global railway family.
Philip Pauley is CEO and founder of PAULEY (Interactive) Ltd