Our responsibility to shape a more diverse rail industry

Source: RTM Apr/May 2019

Angie Doll, passenger services director for Southern and Gatwick Express, outlines Govia Thameslink Railway’s (GTR) role in diversifying and inspiring the next generation of the rail sector’s workforce.

At GTR, we have embarked upon the industry’s biggest rail recruitment drive to attract more women and young people to pursue a career in rail.

Supporting our four brands – Southern, Thameslink, Great Northern, and Gatwick Express – this campaign is helping us change the demographics of our workforce, and the wider pool of talent joining the industry. As the UK’s largest rail franchise, we have a real responsibility – and opportunity – to support and shape the next generation.

We want our teams to reflect the communities they serve. The aim is for our drivers to mirror the local population, with representation across society; this ethos feeds into all areas of the business.


This is a fantastic industry to work in, with many routes for progression. Women are well represented across our management, admin, stations and onboard teams, but less so in operations and engineering; we wanted to address this imbalance head-on.

The main purpose for recruiting more women into driver roles (in 2018, 30% of trainee drivers on Southern were female) is to address gender imbalance and bring more diversity of both gender and thinking into our driver depots. By running the industry’s biggest recruitment programme, as part of our wider modernisation programme, this progressive approach will help the organisation flourish and help to drive change across the sector.

That being said, increasing the number of female drivers is not a ‘tick-box exercise’ – the process of becoming a driver is an intense one for all who go through it. The application process is vigorous and lengthy, with multiple points for potential failure. The process helps us whittle down the huge amount of applicants (we receive more than 1,000 applications per available role) and identify those with the skills we need in our trainees. There are many safety rules and precautions involved in train driving that the ability to remain focused and calm is imperative; there is a lot to deal with, so this isn’t a job for everyone.

The next generation

Improving diversity is important across the business; this can be seen across our apprenticeship programme. GTR is aiming to offer 140 apprenticeships in 2019 to help young people embark on a career in the railway. In 2018, a third of apprenticeships were filled by women; we want to attract even more to our schemes this year. 

We have increased our capacity for training engineering apprentices this year. We currently take on more apprentices in this area than any other UK TOC; we have a lot of services to maintain! We have also created a number of new roles to help achieve this goal, including new Apprentice Station Manager roles on Southern Railway and Gatwick Express.

In order to attract more women to the industry, we’ve opened up our recruitment approach. For example, through posting job adverts on forums such as Mumsnet – their most popular job advert to date. As well as attend careers fairs at schools and colleges, a number of GTR employees work as mentors to help young women understand the different career opportunities open to them.

Every year, GTR runs ‘Get into Railways’ with The Prince’s Trust – a customer service scheme which helps young people from disadvantaged backgrounds into full-time employment. So far, 165 young people have taken part in the course; GTR has hired 84% of them for roles across each of the brands.


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