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24.07.18

Rail recruitment, then and now

Source: RTM June/July 2018

The rail industry has changed massively over the last 30 years. With that, the way the sector has recruited its thousands of workers has also evolved. RTM’s Daniel Broadley sat down with Carl Stanyard, area driver manager at West Midlands Trains, who has worked in rail for more than 40 years, about what’s changed.

Carl Stanyard first got into the rail industry back in the days of British Rail in 1977. Since then, he’s seen the industry transformed, modernised and privatised. With that, the way the industry recruits its tens of thousands of employees has also evolved.

Stanyard told us his training back when he first joined the railways as a driver was rather basic, whereas the training today is “far more in-depth.”

“When I first joined in ‘77 and went onto driver training you went through a six-month driver training course: three months in the classroom and three months of practical handling,” he said.

“Today, there’s various stages throughout the training to check you’re absorbing the knowledge. Let’s say you’re on a driver course – you won’t get to the end of the driver training course and then be identified as struggling, you’ll be given precursors as you go through. So, you don’t end up having all your training at a great expense and then not reaching competency.

“It may well be that as you go through training you might need coaching in a particular area because there’s so many different subject fields, rules and regulations, technical aspects… it may well be that some individuals struggle with little parts of that, for which extra support can now be provided.”

During his talk at iRail 2018 at the National College for High Speed Rail, Stanyard noted that, throughout its lifetime, the West Midlands Trains franchise has created over 400 apprenticeships.

However, formal apprenticeships as we know them today were unheard of back when Stanyard first started training.

“The fact that I was on the railways five years before I started driver training was a little bit like being on an apprenticeship. I was learning my skills before I got my training,” he explained.

Some of this, Stanyard also mentioned, was not entirely legal.

“It was to do with shift work. I was 16 when I joined and the law at the time said that, at that age, I couldn’t do shift work at night and early morning, but we just got on with it. You probably couldn’t get away with that today!”

Mind the gap

One of the biggest challenges facing the rail industry today is, without a doubt, the skills gap; a problem which, back in November last year, NSAR said would cost the economy £1.1bn a year by 2024.

However, much has been done already to tackle this issue. Apprenticeship schemes, the work of NSAR and events like iRail are all things working towards a common goal: closing the skills gap and investing in the future of the rail industry.

“I certainly feel that more events like iRail 2018 would help. What the industry has realised is that there’s going to be a skills gap if they don’t do anything,” Stanyard said.

“It’s like giving blood. When everybody is giving blood, you don’t see any adverts for it. When they realise there’s going to be a shortage, they put outs ads and get people talking, and people go along and donate blood.

“I think that analogy is similar to where we are with the rail industry in that we probably haven’t done much going back some years, and now we’re suddenly realising we’re going to have some big gaps.

“The momentum for getting apprenticeships going and getting people in the industry – that’s been going on for a few years, and it needs to continue.”

Going forward

Since privatisation, the railways have seen massive investment and modernisation, and this, Stanyard says, makes the industry an attractive one to get into.

“HS2 is an exciting era going forward. When you look back to my day,  there was  a certain amount of stagnation. There were no new trains, no locomotives, there were no upgrades to the infrastructure… but then, when we approached privatisation, the railways took off at a great pace to renew a load of infrastructure.

“Wherever you go now, mostly, the coaches are fairly modern. I think that’s really exciting. The general ambience of travelling by railways is becoming a fresh, modern experience, whereas 30 years ago things seemed a bit stagnant. Since privatisation, there’s been nothing but movement.”

Words of wisdom

Reflecting on his time in the rail industry and now looking forward to retirement, Stanyard shared these parting words of wisdom: “You never stop learning. Even though you deal with infrastructure and rules and regulations, you never stop learning.

“It’s the sort of industry where if you look after it and respect it as an employee and do your job well, there’s a job for life.

“An old tracks inspector once said to me, ‘do the job right and it will always remain interesting.’ And he was right.”

 

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