Chronicling the development of my Cambrian and Narrow Gauge 4mm scale model railway

The missing riding

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My mother recently sent me this clipping. It’s from The Times. 

I agree with it wholeheartedly. When I were a lad the options for education were limited. If you wanted to go somewhere you almost had to go to university. There were no apprenticeships and the government had destroyed grants, although fortunately for me they still paid tuition fees. 

(I once got a grant of £50 for the term- beaten by my mate who got a grant of £32 and wondered if it’d last him the whole night, but I digress.)

I think, although it is difficult to say in hindsight, that had there been decent engineering apprenticeships when I was coming to the end of my secondary education I may have taken that route. I’m not saying I don’t like the route I took but university really wasn’t for me and I only persevered because I could see the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. 

Technical education had been shamefully ignored in our country until very recently to the absolute detriment of our manufacturing industry. 

Fortunately the tide is turning. On the railways Network Rail takes on many apprenticeships every year. The national academy for high speed rail will soon be turning out the skills needed for new railways. Bombardier, for the last 15 years the sole beacon of train manufacturing / assembly in this country, has been joined by Hitachi and will soon be joined by CAF. Alstom has public ally said if it wins New Tube for London (the new deep tube trains) they will be assembled in the UK. 

Recently I looked into the current order for new trains. Of the 4200 vehicles (carriages as the press like to call them), over 3000 will be assembled in Britain. That’s some turnaround. 

However, it’s not enough. Technical training starts in schools, not college or university and we need to get our kids in a workshop sooner rather than later so they can see if they enjoy it and teach them it is not a failure to be vocationally trained. 

My school had a Colchester Bantam lathe and I used it. Wouldn’t it be great if every school had a lathe for the kids to use? 

With no formal vocational training available, I did mine as a volunteer on the Ffestiniog Railway in Boston Lodge Works.  

The Ffestiniog also runs its annual Kids Training Week to provide the vocational training that otherwise would not be available. It’s railways like that which have a proactive approach to encouraging  young people that have filled the gap that should be provided by the education system. And they reap the rewards of young, enthusiastic, loyal, volunteers who keep the railways running for decades after they started. 

So what does the future hold? Well if Ken Baker’s UTCs work we’ll have a lot more technically trained young people and our industry will succeed. 

 But the railways who don’t encourage the young – the future there is much more bleak. The Heritage Railway Association have said that up to a third of steam railways could close due to lack of young volunteers. 

The young hold our future. Will we support them in building their future or leave it to chance yet again? 


Author: Chris H

Having now officially reached middle age, I am a rolling stock engineer and have worked in many different locations including a 7 year spell in Sydney, Australia, where I arrived with a suitcase and left with a wife and a son. I am now based back in my home county of Yorkshire where I juggle full time work, being a Dad to two rascally mini-mes, and trying to fit in railway modelling, assisting the GWR 1014 County of Glamorgan project, and visits to the top left hand corner of Wales. In addition to my heavily railway themed life, I am interested in rugby, cricket, reading crime novels, falconry, and medieval re-enactments.

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