careers advice

Why go for an apprenticeship in the rail industry?

Apprenticeships are big news, and more and more companies are launching or expanding their schemes, allowing young people like you to gain valuable practical skills while you earn.

There are a range of different apprenticeship opportunities available in the rail industry, from engineering to IT to customer service, which usually lead to full-time work once your training is complete. Schemes last from a couple of months to
several years, so there’s something for everyone. If you’re looking to move into a growing sector with exciting work, apprenticeships are a great way to get started.

What kind of companies are recruiting?

Nexus – which is in charge of passenger transport for the Tyne and Wear region and runs Metro – is looking for 10 new apprentices for a three-year rail engineering programme. Candidates will begin work in the autumn and will achieve an NVQ Level 2 Performing Engineering Operations and BTEC Level 3 Diploma in Electrical/ Electronic Engineering. Applications are open until the end of March, so you’ve still got some time to apply! For more information visit thier website.

Bernard Garner, Nexus director general, said: “Former Nexus apprentices have risen to senior positions not just with Nexus but in other rail companies from York to Dubai. We aim to provide a good place for young people to start their working life.”

Wherever you want to go

If you’re thinking of moving to London, Transport for London (known as TfL) have an even bigger programme for apprentices. Since 2009, the company and its suppliers have taken on over 4,000 new apprentices.

Huge projects like Crossrail – a new railway across London – require lots of staff, and the company is known for bringing on large numbers of apprentices. Could that be you?

London’s Transport Commissioner, Sir Peter Hendy CBE, said: “Apprenticeships are a fantastic way for us to up-skill the future generation of transport workers to keep London moving and to support jobs and growth across the UK.” For more information visit their website.

Skills exchange

1Train Operating Companies (companies like Northern Rail, Virgin and East Coast, who actually run the trains) also take part in apprenticeship exchanges. South West Trains and Houghton International launched a programme last year for their students to gain a wider understanding of the industry.And that's not all – local partnerships like the one between HMG Paints and the Manchester Communications Academy offer students the chance to learn more about the industry and receive training in manufacturing, sales, research and development, as well as marketing.


Getting on track

Or you could apply for a three-year advanced apprenticeship with Network Rail, who look after the tracks and the physical structures along the railways such as bridges and tunnels. There are placements for track, signalling, electrification and plant, telecoms, and overhead line.

You can earn money as you learn on this scheme, with the salary starting from £8,400 in the first year and rising to £14,000 in the third. Accommodation, food and safety clothing is also provided. Discounted train travel is another nice benefit of working in rail!

They also offer extended work placements, where graduates can spend a year in industry working on project management, engineering, finance or supply chain management.

Laura, a third-year apprentice, said: “A great amount is invested in you and you gain so many qualifications and life skills. I would strongly recommend the Network Rail Apprenticeship to anyone of any age and would encourage them to apply as soon as possible.”

Working as an apprentice can lead to a very exciting career – some of the top jobs in rail are held by people who started out this way. How will you begin your story?

A skilled job for life

A huge amount of money is being invested in the rail industry in the coming years. This is creating thousands of new jobs for people with the right skills.

In the next five years alone, about 1,600 to 2,000 new starters will be needed just to replace older people retiring from the industry. There are a vast variety of jobs that need filling, representing the wide range of work in the rail industry. You could be helping to build tunnels, replace bridges, construct trains, operate train stations, install or maintain the technology to keep trains running, provide the electricity to the overhead lines, or come up with exciting new inventions to help make trains faster, safer and more environmentally friendly.

Rail careers in the North East

2In the North East, there are job opportunities being advertised until 2015 at the new train factory being built at Newton Aycliffe, between Durham and Darlington, including 730 to build the trains and 200 to construct the factory. Find out more here and via the local Job Centre Plus, also visit



High-speed opportunities

You may have heard about HS2, the new high-speed railway line being built between London and Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and maybe the North East and Scotland. Look how many ‘job years’ are going to be available on just the first part of the project, building the line from London to Birmingham:

• Planning and design – 23,000 • Construction – 65,000 • Building 61 new trains – 20,500, plus 30,800 more in the supply chain • Operations, Train Driving, Maintenance and Retail – 3,100 permanent, ongoing jobs

This is just a fraction of the total number of jobs required to build the entire network to Leeds and Manchester. It is thought there will be enough jobs needed for about 900,000 years of work, when everyone’s contribution is added together. For more information visit their website.

Amazing machines

3If you want to work in London, there will be amazing career opportunities with London Underground, but also on Crossrail – a new railway across and under the capital. Gigantic tunnelling machines are, as you read this, burrowing underneath the city, operated by trained engineers. Other people are solving the challenges of building vast new stations underground, designing new passenger information systems, and inventing new train control systems.

There are already 10,000 people working on the project, but soon even more will be needed, and you could be one of them: take a look at the link at the bottom of the page. If you are planning on studying engineering or business at university, Crossrail also has a two-year graduate scheme. For further information visit thier website.


Pride and passion

Network Rail, which owns and operates the railway track across the rest of the country, also has graduate schemes available, some engineering themed and some business themed. It takes on new people every year, with a closing date in January.

Christian Irwin, who studied Economics and Geography at Sheffield University, Young Project Manager of the Year Winner 2012, said: “When I applied for the Network Rail graduate scheme, I really hadn’t appreciated the size of the company and what it delivers…until you are in the industry, it is very difficult to appreciate the scale and diversity of what we do as a company. Also, the pride and passion of people working on the railway is unrivalled.” for more information visit Network Rails careers site.

Where can I train?

The huge growth in the rail industry has meant that thousands more talented new recruits are needed to help deliver network-wide improvements as well as the latest big projects.

A range of institutions and training facilities have been developed to help bridge this gap – places looking for candidates just like you.


High-speed careers

4In 2017 construction for a high-speed rail link between London and Birmingham, known as HS2, will begin. The first new railway in modern times, this project will see the latest technology used to run trains at 225mph.

To make sure there are enough people with the right skills to work on HS2, the government has announced the creation of a new further education college. 
The college will offer specialised training and qualifications for HS2, as well as 
other high-profile infrastructure projects.

Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin added: “HS2 will give young people opportunities to get new skills, get a job and a career, become more secure and get on in life.

HS2 is expected to create 2,000 apprenticeship positions throughout its construction – providing even more chances to get involved.


Rolling stock & traction

5Another new academy is being launched to develop specialist skills to work on rolling stock – the word used in the industry to describe the trains themselves – and traction, which means the technology used to move the trains, whether electric, diesel, or even steam.

The facility is funded by the government, as well as the National Skills Academy for Railway Engineering (or NSARE) and Siemens. Based in King’s Heath, Northampton, it will provide training for entry-level employees.

The first students are expected next spring.

Steve Scrimshaw, managing director of Siemens Rail Systems, said: “We are proud that Siemens, in collaboration with NSARE, will play such an integral part in ensuring rail industry employees have the skills and competencies required to maintain the next generation of trains.” 

And Gil Howarth, chief executive NSARE, said: “The new national training academy is vital to ensure ongoing success in this sector.” 


Tunnelling at TUCA

6Meanwhile, thousands of students are training at Crossrail’s Tunnelling and Underground Construction Academy (TUCA). Over the lifetime of the project, over 3,500 people will be trained in underground construction.

TUCA offers a range of pre-employment courses, including an introduction 
to general construction and metal framework. Facilities include a concrete-testing laboratory, a simulated tunnel environment and loco driver training.

Claire Parry, head of skills and employment at Crossrail, said: “The Academy 
is the only purpose-built facility for training people in key skills in tunnelling and underground construction with an unrivalled range of specialist plant 
and equipment.”

There are dozens of opportunities to get the skills and training you’ll need in the rail industry. 


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