Rail Industry Focus


Network Rail to accelerate diversity drive in recruitment

Source: RTM Dec/Jan 16

Q&A with Alasdair Waddell, resourcing attraction manager at Network Rail, who answers RTM’s questions on the company’s recruitment priorities for 2016, in light of the Hendy Review.

Q) The Hendy Review says it is critical that Network Rail attracts and retains highly experienced people, and urges a “major focus on recruitment and retention”. What is Network Rail doing to ensure this happens? 

A) We need the very best talent on offer to help deliver our Railway Upgrade Plan and transform our railway to carry the ever-increasing number of people who choose to travel by rail safely, efficiently and comfortably. That means not missing out on bringing the best engineers – both men and women, and all ethnicities – to Network Rail. We’re doing this in a number of ways. 

Firstly, graduates. We are increasing the number of engineering places on our 2016 graduate scheme by 40%. Network Rail needs a more diverse workforce that better reflects the society it serves. 

The 2016 graduate programme has 150 places, with 80 places across the three disciplines of mechanical, electrical and civil engineering – with the other places split across general management, finance, property, project management, business technology, supply chain and human resources. 

Q) How will Network Rail be developing diversity in its workforce, especially in promoting more women into roles at the company? And how much progress has been made tackling the ‘macho’ culture to which Mark Carne has referred, and on making sure qualified women always make it onto shortlists for available posts? 

A) I am proud that we have increased the number of women joining our graduate programme to 29% in the last year and to 28% from minority ethnic backgrounds, but we have to accelerate that growth so that it better reflects our society. 

There is also going to be a focus on careers advice. By 2018, some 3,000 teenage girls at five schools in Milton Keynes, the home of our national centre and 3,000 employees, will receive careers advice about working on the railways alongside school programmes run at a local level across the country. 

We will also continue to find and appoint role models among key staff to serve as ambassadors for women working on the railways. 

Alongside this, a series of open evenings will be running at training centres targeted at women, showcasing roles, introducing applicants to staff and building confidence to apply for engineering roles. We’re also rolling-out a work experience scheme supported by Barclays. 


We are keen to make sure we retain women by tackling the macho culture and making our facilities more inclusive – for example by having PPE designed for women, promoting flexible working and family-friendly policies. 

We are a partner in the Women in Rail group, which was set up to provide networking opportunities and support for women within the UK rail industry. We are just one of many companies across the industry, including our contractors and suppliers that recognise the need for change. And we’re working with the campaign group Women in Science, Technology and Engineering (WISE) to increase understanding of why girls often reject careers in these fields.

Q) What are your recruitment aims and objectives for 2016?

A) Network Rail is an organisation of 35,000 people with a national remit and responsibility. We’re focused on recruiting and retaining the best talent in Britain. In 2016 we’re particularly looking at three broad areas of expertise: 

  • Project managers: To plan, co-ordinate and deliver the thousands of projects we’re running across Britain as part of our national Railway Upgrade Plan
  • Frontline operatives: Our ‘Orange Army’ is absolutely key to delivering these projects and we’re always looking to recruit more engineers and operatives
  • Skilled engineers: Both trackside and office-based, in particular covering our Safety, Technical and Engineering (STE) and Digital Railway (DR) functions 

At the same time, we’re also focused on challenging the many misconceptions people have about working in the railway sector. We want to attract talent and experience from other industries and sectors, and need to highlight the many and varied functions and roles there are at Network Rail. Working for us means working for a company that makes a difference. 

Also, diversity and inclusion is important in our sector as it has an impact on improving performance and safety. We know that where you have a diverse workforce you get greater creativity and innovation; where you are inclusive you attract the best people. We want 30% of our graduate intake and 20% of our talent pool of future leaders to be female by 2019. 

Q) The Hendy Review notes that signalling resources are in short supply. But we know some important suppliers are actually making signal engineers redundant at the moment because the work isn’t there. What is Network Rail doing to even out the workbank and end the ‘feast or famine’ we’ve seen in this critical area? 

A) We realise that Network Rail does not work in isolation – indeed we have an interdependency with our many and varied contractors and suppliers. The recent Hendy Review is looking at this issue and highlights the importance of long-term planning. The way Network Rail is funded also plays a part in how the planning and implementation of projects is conducted, and again, the Hendy Review will address this.

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email [email protected]


Wise Engineer   11/03/2016 at 13:12

In terms of attracting the younger generation at their Options choice point in education i.e. Yr8/9, there is considerable effort undertaken through STEM Ambassador activity. In my 5 years as a STEM Ambassador it is noticeable that there is a complete absence of Rail Industry support despite constant invitation to NR, TOCs and the wider supply chain. A missed opportunity. NR do NOT follow their own procedures in respect of the Equalities Act in regard to disabled people. Deaf people do not get the interviews they should in accord with NR published procedures. Diversity should be inclusive, NR policy is Positive Discrimination, particularly in respect of middle aged white male Engineers. In place of politically driven agendas, engage with highly skilled, experienced, capable and innovative Engineers regardless of gender, ethnicity, age or disability and you may actually improve performance. Your messages are not being heard.

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