From education to employment

Northern Regional College Apprentice Shortlisted for Prestigious Award

A Railway Track Apprentice at Northern Regional College has been shortlisted for the Northern Ireland Public Sector Apprentice of the Year Award.

Danny McGinley, who gave up his full-time job as a bus driver with Translink to start a new career as a rail track technician, is now in the second year of the Rail Engineering programme.

Northern Regional College is the only FE college in Northern Ireland to offer the Railway Track Apprenticeship, an innovative programme developed by the College in consultation with Translink and On Track Technicians. 

As a Railway Track apprentice, Danny is at the start of a journey that will enable him to secure nationally accredited qualifications and an opportunity to have a highly challenging but rewarding career in rail track engineering. 

Apprentices attend classes at Northern Regional College in Ballymena while working towards achieving the relevant City and Guilds qualifications, including Rail Engineering Operative Knowledge and Rail Engineering Operative Competence. 

Danny (37) said his decision to go down the apprenticeship route was prompted by a conversation he had with his teenage son.

“At the time, he was making his GSCE subject choices, and it made me think about returning to education myself.

After doing A levels in ICT, Biology and RE, Danny studied Computing and eBusiness but said it wasn’t for him, so he left.

“I always had it at the back of my mind that I would go back to education at some point, but this didn’t happen until I learnt about the Rail Track Apprenticeship. With a young family to support, I couldn’t afford to study full-time, but an apprenticeship offers the perfect balance full-time employment and part-time study. It also allows me to have a better work-life balance as a bus driver’s hours can be anti-social.

He continued: I always thought apprenticeships were for younger people and that they were not well paid. These are just some of the misconceptions I had about apprenticeships. In reality though, an apprenticeship is an exciting opportunity that allows you to ‘earn as you learn’ new skills to help with your career progression.” 

Danny, who was among the second intake of Rail Track Technicians at Northern Regional College, said he had absolutely no regrets about becoming an apprentice:

“I may be the oldest in the class – although there are a few others not too far behind me!  The conversation with my son about his subject choices, sowed the seed as it made me think about where I was going with my own career. This was another incentive for returning to study as I wanted to set an example for my children by showing them that if they are prepared to work hard, they will achieve their goals.

“As part of the Apprenticeship programme, we are learning engineering principles and how these apply to the railways. Few people realised the work that goes on behind the scenes to keep the trains running smoothly.”

Danny said another benefit of the Apprenticeship programme was that he could brush up on his ICT skills:

“I did my A levels in 2004 so my ICT knowledge was well outdated. The programme has also helped with my ‘softer’ skills, such as communications and working as part of an engineering team.  The railway is a safety critical environment so getting to know and understand the legislation behind the rules was very beneficial.”

He continued: “Since the programme is aligned to Translink’s internal training schedule, we learn theory and practice simultaneously. Once you have the underpinning theory behind the practice, things fall into place a lot quicker.

“I would absolutely recommend this course to anyone interested in getting into the rail industry.  The Rail Technician Apprenticeship sets you up perfectly with both the knowledge and skills needed to pursue a career as a rail track technician. It has created opportunities for me, and I am 100 per confident that it help my career progression.”

Patrick Wallace, Principal Lecturer for Traineeships at Northern Regional College, said the Rail Track Apprenticeship was an exciting new option for students. 

“Apprentice Railway Track Technicians will develop the necessary skills and knowledge to meet specific requirements of the role by studying engineering principles, track maintenance techniques, materials technology and rail safety.” 

He continued: “The skills involved in track engineering are specialised and since they didn’t fit into any programmes being offered by the College, we decided to deliver the relevant qualifications as an apprenticeship framework to provide a recognised path into rail track engineering.  

“The strong links and open communication between Translink, OTT, the FE Sector Engineering Hub and the College played a key role in the development of this apprenticeship.

“Other professions follow a recognised apprenticeship route to get an accredited qualification, so it’s only right that railway maintenance workers have the same opportunity for career progression.”

Applications are open for all courses starting in September 2024.  To apply and for further details visit

Related Articles