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Midland Metro Alliance (MMA)

Boosting rail-sector skills to build a future workforce

Sector-Based Work Academy Programmes (SWAPs) are free/subsidised short-term training initiatives administered by Jobcentre Plus. Over the course of up to six weeks, SWAP support employers, local job seekers, and the regional economy.  

This fast-track programme is an effective way to rejuvenate workforces and plugs future skills gaps with fresh talent. It also supports unemployed local people in areas of work they may never have previously considered.

One beneficiary of SWAP is Midland Metro Alliance (MMA) – a consortium of rail specialists. The Alliance was launched in July 2016 and committed to creating a legacy of upskilled people in the region. Rose Rees, Head of Engagement and Skills at Midland Metro Alliance, was familiar with the benefits of SWAP owing to her background in Further Education and so initiated the first MMA SWAP programme in 2017. Rose said:

“I think Sector-Based Work Academy Programmes are the best-kept secret! Led by businesses, they’re geared up for what individual employers need. I was very involved in designing the SWAP. Employer partners were going to give up their time to interview and potentially offer jobs, so I wanted the SWAP cohort to have skills that were of real benefit to our alliance.”

What are SWAPs?

SWAPs are open to all job seekers aged 18 upwards but are especially useful for young people seeking employment. The programme incorporates pre-employment support, a work placement, and a guaranteed job interview or help with employers’ recruitment processes.

MMA partnered with four local colleges to deliver their SWAP across the West Midlands - Wolverhampton, Dudley, BMet, and Solihull. Instead of light-weight employability training, MMA required accredited qualifications that addressed immediate and future recruitment needs. As a result, the SWAP covered CSCS cards (the leading construction skills certification scheme within the UK).

The programme also incorporated small tools training, first aid, health and safety, and manual handling. Dudley College even added a Banksman qualification (designed specifically for railway signaller roles), making the cohort more appealing to potential traffic management employers.

In total, 56 unemployed candidates enrolled, and 50 completed the 6-week programme. Interesting on-site placements kept retention high, and alliance employers visited learners to see firsthand the quality skills on offer.

Although some candidates concluded the sector was not the right fit for them, a phenomenal 26 individuals gained employment due to SWAP; other individuals achieved jobs soon after the course, benefitting from the skills gained through the programme.

Making a huge difference

In 2021, MMA initiated a second SWAP with Dudley College. This tailored pathway instead led to a new Level 2 Tramway Construction Operative apprenticeship targeting often excluded lower-level learners from areas of deprivation. Ten local unemployed candidates enrolled, and all completed. Eight progressed, and six are now halfway through their 18-month apprenticeship and working on the Wednesbury to Brierley Hill Metro extension. Rose added:

“The rail and construction industry has an ageing workforce and needs to fill future skills gaps with more young professionals. There are a huge variety of exciting careers available with excellent prospects. Targeting young, local learners for regional projects has helped retain candidates who can work closer to home.

“Many of the individuals on the original SWAP are still employed by MMA today and progressing in their jobs. Some have taken supervisory qualifications, and others like Stuart Faulkes are now employed by the railway specialists Colas Rail to work on track installation. This is a great example of how an investment of government money can make a huge difference.

“The programme benefitted MMA managers too. They enjoyed mentoring young people offering a fresh perspective. It’s so rewarding to see individuals from the original cohort still working on site and being promoted. We are currently working on the Birmingham east-side Metro extension to Digbeth, and our Edgbaston project is just wrapping up. If there are future projects like these, we will definitely consider another SWAP programme.”

For MMA, the biggest advantages of using SWAP as a recruitment method are:

  • Getting to know candidates for six weeks – monitoring attendance, punctuality, and attitude towards training and college staff.
  • Visiting candidates to see what they are learning and enjoying. A formal panel interview is still used but you’re more likely to find exceptional and committed talent.
  • It boosts productivity, retention, and the business bottom line.


To find out more about how Sector-Based Work Academy Programmes (SWAP) could benefit your organisation, contact: