One of the biggest challenges facing the rail industry is how to diversify the current workforce.
A huge push is currently being made to encourage more women to take up careers within the rail workforce in what has been a historically male dominated industry.
Chrisma Jain, Trustee with the Women Engineering Society and Senior Project Manager at London Underground spoke about her experiences and the initiatives happening in the industry to help get more women involved in the rail industry.
Chrisma spoke on this saying: “An ageing workforce coupled with large rail infrastructure projects across the UK such as HS2 is increasing the demand for rail talent.
“There is currently a skills shortage across the rail industry, but we need to act fast if we are going to meet this increased demand. We need more skilled workers of all kinds: engineers, surveyors, construction workers, signallers, and drivers. Crossrail will open this year and HS2 and other projects are ramping up recruitment. We are all fighting for the same people, so collectively we need to promote rail and attract a diverse range of people at an earlier age.
“And I, as a woman in rail, have certainly found it a rewarding career.”
Research from Women in Rail showed that 16% of people who work in the rail industry are female but only 2% of females in the railway industry are engineers. Engineering UK recently reported that 14.5% of those working in engineering are female. The stark difference between the two stats (14.5% versus 2%) shows that we as an industry have much more work to do to attract female engineers into rail.
The percentage of women in engineering roles has increased from 12% to 14% over the past three years. Although it does not feel we have seen the same proportional increase, if any, in rail.
Chrisma commented further on the initiatives that are currently underway to help bring more women into rail.
Chrisma commented: “Many individuals, organisations and charities are promoting rail to attract a diverse workforce. One of my favourites is the Lottie tour initiative created by the Women Engineering Society to attract the imagination and interest of young girls. The annual tour shows engineers at work touring with Lottie Dolls.
“Organisations such as Women in Rail, Women Engineering Society, Women in Construction and Engineering, Engineering Talent Awards and We are the City celebrate females in the industry through annual awards.
“Increasing the number of rail finalists in these awards promotes rail as well as the individuals and hopefully attracts more talent into the industry.”
Through her role with Transport for London (TfL) Chrisma can see the work being done to improve diversity and inclusion throughout the rail industry.
Chrisma explained this saying: “The Diversity and Inclusion directorate leads the strategy and improves policies from the top down, while several employee networks, led by staff influence policies, promote and support staff from the ground up.
“I chair the Females in Transport Engineering (FiTE) staff network group and have enjoyed working with the team while influencing change across the Engineering Directorate. Through this role, I have signed up TfL to external STEM initiatives to increase the pipeline of talent. The other staff network groups at TfL do similar and much more work to promote and celebrate staff from diverse backgrounds.
“I think it’s important to continue doing more of the same. We need to promote staff, the rail industry and the companies involved into the mainstream as much as possible as we won’t reap the benefits until much later down the line. As seen in other industries, having an influential ambassador can bring great change through media coverage.”
However, more can still be done to ensure young people are aware of the opportunities available to them in the rail industry, and Chrisma spoke on the ways this can be done and to encourage more people to take up careers in rail.
Chrisma spoke on this explaining: “To meet the growing demand for an increasing rail workforce, we need everyone to promote rail to the younger generation through the various STEM programmes and career workshops in schools.
“Education in schools will be an important step as part of career days and to support our talent goals in the future.
“There was lots of discussion last year around record numbers of people quitting their jobs because of the Covid-19 pandemic. It would be great if we could attract some of these people into rail. I think it’s important to attract a diverse talent pool and, once we have attracted this pool, the critical activity is inclusion.”
In recent years TfL has built on its work with London Transport Museum through its Enjoyment to Employment activity which includes STEM Ambassador work and the Route into Work programme which has made a significant improvement in the representation of women in London Underground Engineering Apprenticeships. In just three years TfL has taken Level 3 Engineering Apprenticeship scheme from no representation of women in 2018, to 27 per cent in 2021 and the London Underground Fleet Engineering apprenticeship (level 3) achieved gender parity for the first time in 2021. This, coupled with its wider schools outreach activity which targets girls schools and schools that reach young people from more deprived backgrounds, is also helping to make huge changes across the wider industry.
Chrisma continued: “A speaker at a recent careers workshop at Brunel University likened Diversity and Inclusion to a dinner party. Diversity is inviting everyone to dinner regardless of race, gender etc. Inclusion is asking people what they require to put them at ease.
“In the rail industry, we must make sure we cater for everyone. Not only is embracing Diversity and Inclusion the right thing to do; by embracing diverse views, it will make us better at what we do.”