A pioneering scheme to train the engineers delivering the latest fibre technology to the UK on a full mock-up of a street has put Bradford at the heart of Openreach’s training programme.
More than 5,500 engineers and trainees used the Legrams Lane training centre, complete with its innovative Open Street facility, in its first 12 months of operation.
Open Street is a mock up of a street, with four houses, two garages, and two business premises, all designed to give the engineers who train there as authentic a representation as real-life call outs as possible – right down to a barking dog to deal with.
Bradford was the first centre to use the idea when it opened last March, and the work it does is helping to train the thousands of engineers who are delivering the company’s Fibre First programme.
More than £1 million was invested in the property to transform it from a 1970’s office, storage and workshop unit into the vast training facility it is today.
And the development has acted as a template for Openreach training centres across the UK – giving recruits and engineers safe, ‘real-life’ scenarios to get to grips with their work on.
The ‘Open Street’, idea means engineers can experience a typical working day – from cabling to jointing and repairs, working underground or overhead, climbing telephone poles and installing new services inside customers’ homes.
Kim Mears, Openreach’s managing director, said: “The training centre is a huge asset to Openreach and to Bradford.
“Bradford was chosen due to its location along the M62 and because the city itself, and the wider region, has very a high customer and Openreach engineer (we employ around 2,300 people in Yorkshire – mostly engineers) base,” she said.
Since the Bradford Open Street was set up, Openreach has now developed three others around the UK. Those behind the scheme have worked hard to ensure they all come as close as possible to replicating real life situations.
Kim said: “All of these sites have slightly different set-ups to make the most of the individual training centre. In Bradford, we have four houses, two garages and two additional business premises. This variation enables our trainers to demonstrate different scenarios that engineers will encounter day to day.
“We have a barking dog bell chime, to talk about pets and potential safety issues they could come across at customers houses. Different types of external cladding on property fronts exist to train on drilling practices and how to best run cables while making sure they consider the customer and the property.
“We also have different floor types so that we can discuss ladder safety, and the garages provide a real life set-up for training on working on a flat roof. Everything has been designed with the purpose of giving engineers maximum exposure to the things they will encounter on real jobs. The network is live, so it works exactly as it would out on a real street.”
The training is seen as playing an absolutely vital role in Openreach’s huge project to roll out full fibre broadband across the UK.
“We need skilled, agile teams. Open Street helps to show the network as a whole; learners can see and understand how each part of the network connects to the next, and how the work they undertake has a huge impact the customer experience.”
Bradford is also a seen as key centre for Openreach’s UK-wide ongoing recruitment, with 3,500 new recruits taken on across the country during 2018/19 and another 3,000 planned to be brough in during 2019/20.
As part of that process Openreach is working hard to attract a more diverse workforce. Last year, more female engineers joined than in previous years. And recruitment of black, Asian and minority ethnic people has risen nationally from 11 per cent in 2017 to 17 per cent in 2018.
With Bradford home to a young and diverse workforce, the company is keen to recruit locally, and recently held an open day to coincide with International Women in Engineering Day in a bid to raise the profile of female engineers.
Local families were invited along to get a taste of life as an engineer with a number of female engineers on hand to talk through their experiences and to demonstrate some of the high-tech kit they use on a day-to-day basis.
One female engineer, Hollie Hutton, explained why it is such a rewarding career.
“It’s still a largely male-dominated career but times are most definitely changing, which can only be a good thing,” she said.
“Being an engineer for Openreach is a fantastic job and one that I really enjoy. There can be a misconception that the physical side of the role makes it too challenging, but in reality it’s never been less so. With the modern tools and techniques we use, this career is now very much open to both men and women.
“My message to anyone who’s thinking about a career as an engineer, whether that be starting out from college or switching career at a later stage, is to find out more. It’s a fascinating job, you’re always working with brand new technology which is exciting, and there is huge satisfaction from problem solving and resolving complex issues.”
Kevin Brady, Openreach’s HR Director, said: “We are keen to be known as a company that men and women from all walks of life want to work for, and for our workforce to reflect the hugely diverse communities we serve throughout the UK.”
The leaders of Bradford and Leeds councils recognise the importance of the facility, and both visited it for the first anniversary celebrations earlier this year.
Cllr Susan Hinchcliffe, leader of Bradford Council, said:“There’s a national shortage of engineers so it’s great to see an infrastructure business like Openreach playing its part and investing in training new talent right here in Bradford.”
Cllr Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council, said: “It was fantastic to visit Openreach’s regional training centre this morning and meet some of the local engineers that will be installing superfast and ultrafast broadband infrastructure across our region.
Going forward, Openreach anticipates the demand for the facility will remain, and the level of trainees using it will continue to be large.
“In Yorkshire we envisage 9,000 training days for our engineers and new starters this year, so to have about 5,000 individual trainee’s come through our doors is easily going to happen,” said Kim Mears.
“With ongoing new recruit training and existing engineers upskilling we expect to see the same level of use at the facility. On any given day the centre can have up to 80 engineers being trained.
“It’s been a great first year but we’re not resting on our laurels. Work is already underway building two new classrooms at Bradford to expand the training facilities even further, and we have a raft of upgrades we are working on to make the training experience the best it can possibly be.”