Focussing on developing skills and inspiring the future transport workforce, is one of the key planks of the West Yorkshire Bus Alliance’s work driving this agenda forward, which has seen it engage over 3,000 students to date. Kim Purcell, Head of Operations for Arriva Yorkshire and Yorkshire Tiger sets out why it’s important and how the project is working
As we rapidly approach November’s COP26, the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference set to bring countries together in a crucial conversation about global climate efforts, all eyes are on the environment – and the role that we play in it.
And with this year’s conference scheduled to take place right here in the UK, where the government has set a nationwide target to reach Net Zero by 2050, the climate change agenda and our all-important efforts to reduce emissions are very much in the spotlight.
For us in West Yorkshire and a number of other forward-thinking areas across the country, we’ve taken a further step to propel these efforts, with the Leeds City Region area committed to an earlier net zero carbon economy target of 2038 at the latest. To deliver on this target, public transport is set to play a huge role.
“Most UK transport workers fall into the 45-54 age bracket, which will make growing and innovating in the sector more difficult if we don’t have young people ready to take those careers up”
Transport has long been a known contributor towards emissions, and in recent years this has incited landmark changes for the sector, which include banning the sales of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 and introducing plans to invest in zero-emission buses.
In line with these important environmental priorities, forward-thinking bus operators like Arriva, First and Transdev have been evolving at scale and pace over recent years, upgrading technology in new bus fleets to ensure that public transport plays an exemplary role, making positive changes for a greener future across West Yorkshire.
But the transport sector faces another challenge to realising a greener future – talent. For the public transport sector to continue to innovate and thrive, it requires an enthusiastic, skilled workforce pipeline with fresh ideas, and a generation of young people bought into the environmental benefits of using these public services.
On average, most UK transport workers fall into the 45-54 age bracket, which will make growing and innovating in the sector more difficult if we don’t have young people ready to take those careers up. 
With crucial environmental targets to be met, and the need for public transport to evolve and be used effectively to support this, a concerted effort needs to be made and coordinated between organisations to ensure that young people are switched on to the benefits of using buses and the vast opportunities to create a successful career in the sector.
Already collaborating to help lead the way for the future of the sector, the West Yorkshire Bus Alliance, a partnership between bus operators Arriva, First, Transdev and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, was set up in 2019 to put customers at the heart of improving services, keep buses moving and develop a sustainable bus network.
With a shared ambition to educate young people about the environmental benefits of using buses and promote a plethora of exciting career opportunities, the Alliance is already making a key intervention to address the skills gap in a sector which needs to grow rapidly to meet future demand for greener, more sustainable modes of travel.
Delivered by social enterprise Ahead Partnership – an organisation that helps businesses deliver social value projects that deliver positive change within society – the West Yorkshire Bus Alliance Education Programme is a programme of diverse, engaging activities and resources for 11-18-year-olds that promote regional transport and help young people to understand the importance of the public transport sector in delivering a greener future.
Despite the challenges of the pandemic – both to education and to the transport sector itself – Ahead Partnership has already delivered a successful first year of the programme and engaged over 3,000 students to date, embracing a flexible approach to digital and classroom-based learning to reach, engage and inspire as many young people across West Yorkshire as possible.
“Nearly half of the students that participated in careers panels said that they would now consider a career in the sector”
Activities involve delivering insightful careers panels; useful Maths and Science curriculum resources; and the annual Bus to the Future challenge which saw Year 12 students design a marketing campaign to encourage younger students to get the bus to school.
With innovation integral to creating a truly ‘next gen’ transport sector, the programme also includes Youth Forum sessions which foster insights and ideas about the future of transport and what young people – the generation set to use, and indeed lead, the sector in years to come – would like to see.
With these efforts proving a success – nearly half of the students that participated in careers panels said that they would now consider a career in the sector – the potential of what could be achieved collaboratively and at a sector-wide level is clear. Issues like climate change affect us all, and public transport has the potential to drive real progress – the only way to overcome these challenges is by uniting our efforts to tackle them.
Engaging with young people now will be paramount to sourcing the interest and enthusiasm that the sector will need in the future.