IRTE Skills Challenge 2015

Celebrating engineering success

Now in its fifth year, the IRTE (Institute of Road Transport Engineers) Skills Challenge 2015 came to its climax recently with a glittering awards ceremony.

The National Motorcycle Museum in Solihull played host to the event, a fitting venue for the presentations that recognised engineering and mechanical excellence in the bus and coach industry. Chris Peat attended to find out who won.

Discovering the best

This year’s edition of the Challenge proved to be the most popular yet. There were 18 teams taking part, including Abellio, Arriva, FirstGroup, Go-Ahead London, Go South Coast, London United Buses, Metroline, Tower Transit, Translink and trentbarton, leading to 50 competitors facing off to discover the best in the coach and bus engineering world. The annual competition aims to find the best bus and coach technicians and apprentices in the UK and Ireland by testing their skills and knowledge in a series of mechanical, electrical and bodywork tasks. These trials were carried out at S&B Automotive Academy in Bristol between 1 and 4 June 2015.

Speaking to me prior to the winners of the awards being announced, President of SOE (Society of Operations Engineers, the organisation of which IRTE is a part of), Gerry Fleming, said the calibre of entrants was ‘very high, particularly in the younger generations who entered. There’s a lot of great people who have entered and we encourage people of all levels into it. Now, we are finding the skills needed are more technologically challenging and this is bringing a higher calibre of people who have this knowledge.’

Gerry’s term in office as President was due to expire in a matter of days, so the awards ceremony was his final formal appearance at an event in his current position. He felt it was a great one to go out on.

Since the Challenge was founded in 2011, the intention has always been for it to be embraced by operators as a way to benchmark the skills of their technicians against those of other operators, something Gerry says it is excellent for. This is in addition to it celebrating excellence in engineering training and development.

He believes the Challenge is having a ‘massive affect’ on the industry, commenting, ‘This event is seen as a pinnacle of where we are with skills in this sector, looking at the standards of where we have been and where we are now and where we are going in the future.’

Giving a keynote speech at the start of the awards was Sir Moir Lockhead, former Chief Executive of FirstGroup and SOE Patron. In it he highlighted teamwork as key to achieving success in the world of transport engineering, or simply in business in general. ‘In a business, those that succeed are those that are best at running a team,’ he said.

Sir Moir went on to say that the Challenge is all about teams, celebrating those that are triumphant. Even those who do not go onto receive an award in the competition were all a success, he said, being the ‘best of the best’ already.

He recalled his time at college when he was told that to be an engineer he ‘had to be a member of the IRTE’, else he might as well ‘do something else’. Echoing the ‘if you can’t do it safely, don’t do it’ philosophy of his former company, First, he told the competition’s entrants: ‘Compliance and safety and safety and compliance – this is what you do.’ This was why the Traffic Commissioners supported the IRTE and the Skills Challenge.


After an opening speech by Gerry and a fabulous three course meal, the winners were announced. First up was the Top Scoring Bodywork Technician, sponsored by Bridgestone, which was won by Jason Williams of trentbarton. The runner up was Colin Truter of London United Busways.

Taking the Shell sponsored Top Scoring Electrical Technician award was Luke Wood of Go-Ahead London. FirstGroup’s Andrew Howie was the runner up in this category.

Ray Silcox from FirstGroup took the Top Scoring Mechanical Technician title, sponsored by Allison Transmission, with Martin Tomkins of Metroline in the runner up spot.

The Knorr-Bremse sponsored Top Scoring Electrical and Mechanical Award went to the team of Tom King and Pamela Chapman. The runners up in this category were Chris Brown and Martin Tomkins from Metroline.

Go South Coast’s Ben Gilmour won the Top Scoring DVSA Inspection Technician award, with Gary Richens of London United Busways taking the runner up spot. The Top Scoring DVSA Inspection Apprentice title went to Evan Wilton from Translink, with Pamela Chapman of Arriva taking the runner position.

Next up was a series of apprentice awards. The first to be announced was Top Scoring Bodywork Apprentice, which was won by FirstGroup’s Michelle Wolf, with Matthew Newton of Arriva named the runner up. Tom King of Arriva took the Top Scoring Electrical Apprentice, with Ross Lewin of Tower Transit the runner up. Tom’s workmate Pamela Chapman was named Top Scoring Mechanical Apprentice, with Translink’s Evan Wilton the runner up.

Philip Margrave Memorial Award

A new award introduced this year was the Philip Margrave Memorial Award for Outstanding Achievement. Introduced in memory of Philip Margrave, former Engineering Director for Go-Ahead London who passed away in April this year, it recognises the individual who best exemplifies engineering excellence throughout the IRTE Skills Challenge. The first to receive it was Pamela Chapman of Arriva, who took to the stage for a fourth time during the ceremony to receive it.

It is fitting for Phil’s name to be associated with the accolade, considering his active promotion of the Skills Challenge, playing a key part since the first competition in 2011. He was an active member of the IRTE for 24 years and prior to retirement was a member of the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership Bus Working Group and Members’ Council. He was also Chair of the CPT Engineering Committee until his passing.

The final award of the ceremony was the IRTE Outstanding Team Award, which went to Tim Laws-Chapman, Andrew Howie and Ray Silcox from FirstGroup.
All winners of the awards received a certificate, trophy and a prize of Teng Tools.

Speaking to me after the awards, a jubilant Gerry Fleming said, ‘There’s a real buzz in here today, it’s very infectious. It’s been a great awards ceremony.’




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