First Bus partnership creates UK’s first zero-emission apprentice academy

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A partnership between First Bus and Reaseheath College is breaking new ground in as it trains the engineers of tomorrow

First Bus has helped to establish the UK’s first coach and bus engineering academy, with hybrid electric buses for training apprentices on the next generation of zero-emission vehicles. The operator has partnered with Reaseheath College in Nantwich, Cheshire to open the national centre which has started to welcome its first apprentices.

First West of England has loaned two ADL Enviro400 VE (virtual electric) hybrids to support training in a purpose-built workshop facility dedicated to the company’s trainee engineers. Other First Bus operating business have also donated vehicles and purchased equipment. This includes an Enviro300 from the Adderley Green depot of First Midlands, an engineering training bus from Central engineering, air tools supplied by First West Yorkshire together with a range of spare parts and plans for a Volvo from Eastern Counties in Norwich.

Reaseheath College has invested some £50,000 in new equipment. The facility adopts a work experience-style environment to help instil a workplace mindset among apprentices and maintain a seamless switch from depot to learning.

Ian Warr, Engineering Director of First Bus, said: “Creating this academy has needed a collective effort by our businesses around the country to ensure our apprentices have the best start to their training and careers. We’ve been determined to make sure access to vehicles and equipment for technical skills development matches the superb study environment at the college. Zero-emission engine technologies are evolving rapidly as First Bus invests in greener fleets to reduce carbon and improve air quality. It’s vitally important that we build a pipeline of highly skilled bus engineers with the right knowledge to maintain the next generation of buses.”

The new engineering academy has broken the mould of traditional apprenticeships with the introduction of a 12-week block release, twice that of other courses, with trainees attending for a series of four 3-week classroom and practical residential visits over a year. Engineering directors and managers from First Bus have had direct input into the course content and delivery, a contribution not previously possible with other programmes.

Reaseheath College Curriculum Area Manager for Engineering Apprentices, Katie Whiteman, said: “This exciting new collaboration with First Bus has enabled us to offer the expertise of industry professionals within a teaching and learning college environment. We have created a first-class apprenticeship programme for the bus and coach sector which addresses existing skills gaps and will respond to future skills requirement within the sector.”

Programme Leader Simon Bishop (left) with First Bus apprentices. FIRST