Railway-Specific Vocational Education for Young Emiratis

To be prepared for the future challenges of the railway market in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the local railway organization Etihad Rail DB (ERDB) commissioned the German company DB E&C (DB Engineering & Consulting) to develop and implement a sustainable vocational education program for young Emiratis.

group of trainees
DB Training

The vocational education program enables young Emiratis to familiarize themselves with the railway sector, to qualify for railway-specific jobs and, in the long run, become managers of Etihad Rail DB.

Initial Situation

The railway industry is quite new in the Middle East region in general and specifically in the UAE. The UAE's vision is to establish a national railway system which connects the UAE's key centers of trade and population.

First of all, a joint venture (JV) between UAE's National Railway Network and Deutsche Bahn AG, the leading German railway organization and holding company of DB E&C, was founded in 2013. The JV is called Etihad Rail DB (ERDB). It is responsible for operating and maintaining a railway network of 264 kilometers in length which facilitates the transport of sulfur from the cities of Shah and Habshan to Ruwais in the western region of Abu Dhabi. 

One of Etihad Rail DB's strategic objectives is to develop the necessary know-how and expertise to run the railway system autonomously. So among other measures, Etihad Rail DB decided to implement a railway-specific vocational training to ensure that their employees receive the best possible qualification. The German company DB E&C was commissioned to design and organize the implementation process.

The Rail Diploma – a special vocational training for railway professions – is a basic qualification for young Emiratis and the first step to enter the career path at ERDB. The program is accessible for UAE nationals only and thus serves as a strategic instrument to reach the Emiratization quota.


To design a structured concept, it was necessary to reach an agreement with Abu Dhabi Vocational Education Training Institute (ADVETI). ADVETI is a technical training institute, licensed by the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. ADVETI's services offers comprise vocational workshops including the technical equipment for the training in mechanical and electrical subjects as well as competent training staff. Apart from the technical facilities and trainers, ADVETI has extensive experience with the learning culture of the Emiratis, their prime challenges being time management and fatigue. ADVETI also holds the responsibility for the certification of the new training course "Rail Diploma". The program, the training material and the trainers are approved by the UAE Ministry of Education.

The second challenge was to attract young Emiratis, usually without any clear idea of railway transportation, for railway-specific qualifications like Train Controller, Train Captain, Rolling-Stock Technician, Systems Technician and Ontrack-Equipment Operator.

Concept and Curriculum Development

School graduates who start their first year of training (ADVETI Core Year) must undergo tests to prove their knowledge of mathematics, their English language proficiency and their physical and psychological fitness. In the first year, the mechanical and electrical fundamentals for all ERDB trainees are taught. At the end of the second year, the trainees decide for one of the five professions and continue their functional training for the individual job in the third year.

To meet the demands of ERDB, concepts, standards and didactic elements of the vocational training of Deutsche Bahn AG were incorporated as well as the training contents of the German vocational training professions "Industrial Mechanic" and "Eletronics Technician for Operating Technology".

For the third year a teaching outline for the railway-specific trainings was compiled in close cooperation with the respective Managers and signed off by the Safety Director. Also recommendations for training materials were made.

The training starts with an Induction Week to introduce the company's vision, mission and values as well as work ethics. The following two years consist of several training modules, for example geometry and trigonometry, electrical fundamentals, IT, technical drawings, electrical equipment, welding techniques, dismantling and assembling of parts.

Further modules of the training cover railway operations and practice-oriented training for the different professions at ERDB premises. Also several work placement phases are planned.

In addition, a one-week site visit program was organized as a benefit for the signing of the working contract. The trainees were accompanied by the German trainer who conducted the induction week.

Among the tasks of the DB E&C consultants were recommendations regarding the development of various training course documents and of a tutoring/mentoring concept for the trainees. The German experts also advised on the training of the employees who were to take over a tutoring function for the trainees. The managers involved in the training process received a didactic training independent of the program; therefore train-the-trainer measures were not necessary.

Recruitment Strategy

The concept of a structured vocational training like the one at ERDB is relatively unknown in the UAE. School leavers mainly aspire to either go to university or to find a position in the public sector. It was therefore necessary to draw up a detailed recruiting plan for open training positions, including school visits. As decisions are usually made by the family and not by the individual, family members were invited as well.

In addition to information about the company and the various professions, the presentations focused on the advantages for the trainees, including excellent career opportunities, exciting jobs and a one-week trip to Germany to learn about the German railway system.

Twelve applicants were hired and started their training program on 1 September 2017. The induction program was preceded by a one-week visit to Munich, during which various facilities of the Deutsche Bahn AG were visited.

A second group of 16 participants, male and female trainees, started their training in September 2019.

detailed view of rails