Imperial celebrates 60 years with renewed commitment to skills development

IRTE Skills Challenge

2024 sees the 60th anniversary of Imperial Engineering’s incorporation and once again, the leading bus and coach parts distributor is pledging its support to the IRTE Skills Challenge, which now in its 12th year of operation, hopes to ‘challenge the status quo.’

Scheduled over three days at the S&B Automotive Academy in Bristol during the week commencing 3 June, the Skills Challenge will see PSV engineers, technicians and apprentices employed by operators from across the coach and bus sector competing under one roof, to demonstrate their skills and knowledge. The event consists of a series of rigorous mechanical, electrical, bodywork and tyre examination tasks, put together and judged by industry specialists, sponsor partners and the Institute of Road Transport Engineers. Tests are a mixture of practical, written theory and oral questioning.

As well as acting as a showcase for the high level of skills already demonstrated in the coach and bus repair industry and as a way for operators to promote their dedication to high standards, the three-day competition presents a unique opportunity for engineers and technicians to meet and socialise with likeminded individuals.

The theme of this year’s event is ‘challenging the status quo’, reflecting the Skills Challenge’s desire to push competitors outside of their comfort zone and raise industry standards. While previous years have seen different categories for qualified engineers and apprentices (including a ‘Mechelec’ combined mechanical and electrical category for apprentices and a Master Tech category) this year will see an additional category, focused on new technology.

This new category will look at some of the most advanced engineering within propulsion and drivetrains and S&B Automotive Academy’s Operations Director, Richard Belton, expects only those with considerable experience to take part.

“We have had a focus on emerging technology before, that electricians would look at but this is the first time we have it as a separate category entirely. It will also be marked and awarded separately. It will be down to those with a background in new drivetrains and alternative fuels to decide if they are suitable to take part. For specialists working in those areas, it is certainly a category they should think about entering.”

Participants are judged on multiple criteria and assessors on each test judge everything from health and safety aspects to critical points during the test, as well as the logical process taken throughout. Senior managers from operators and industry sponsors are present to see competing technicians win outstanding awards and for being at the top of, or ahead of, their game. Many competitors have gone on to great success within their own companies and elsewhere.

Ultimately, the event is a ‘must-participate’ for engineers and apprentices because it raises the profile of critically important work within an essential industry, helping to attract people to that career path.

Leading bus parts distributor, Imperial Engineering, has long advocated that ‘home grown’ talent provides meaningful return on investment and there are plenty of industry studies to show that Apprenticeships deliver significant payback to employers which nurture and develop their workforce. Imperial Engineering has been a supporter of bus and coach technician apprenticeships for decades. The company actively supports apprentices at the grassroots level through a number of measures. These include organising training sessions with Imperial Engineering’s OEM suppliers such as Knorr-Bremse, Haldex and Wabco.

According to Imperial Engineering, employees who feel valued are more motivated and therefore likely to perform better. Investing in career progression is not only a productive force for staff, it can help managers ensure that the business is well equipped with the right structure, skills and people to meet an improving business climate.

With the spotlight on apprentices every February thanks to the annual National Apprenticeship Week, a number of operators have pledged their commitment to apprenticeship programmes as part of their business strategies, which has been welcomed by Imperial Engineering.

John Dwight, Imperial Engineering’s Sales Director, comments:

“With some of the biggest players in our industry seeing increased apprentice numbers is very positive and really crucial to the work being done to highlight bus and coach as an attractive career opportunity for aspiring engineers and technicians. With technology advancing rapidly in the zero emissions era, there is already great demand for multi-skilled engineers with diagnostic and electrical skills. 2024 is our 60th anniversary, so Imperial Engineering is proud to continue its close association with the IRTE Skills Challenge, which is an excellent shop window for highlighting the sector as a skilled profession.”




Photo credit: Graham Trott – Skills Challenge 2022