Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) and UK-based charity The Prince’s Trust marked the fifth anniversary of their Get Into Railways’ training programme by stressing the need for more diversity among young rail recruits.

The Prince’s Trust announced that its ‘training programme has generated £1.6m of ‘social benefit’ to UK society since its launch in 2014, and that the programme has helped 182 18-25 years olds gain skills and work experience over the last five years.

In total, 164 participants have secured permanent jobs with rail operator Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), which covers Thameslink, Great Northern, Southern and Gatwick Express.

Speaking at a press briefing on 20 September, senior head of national public sector partnerships at The Prince’s Trust Alban Stowe said that the programme has already seen a success rate where 77% of the trainees have been employed by GTR.

“Young people go on many employability programmes that don’t lead to work but with ‘Get Into Railways’, the job outcomes are so high that we feel really confident about putting this opportunity forth to them,” he added.

The course is a four-week training and mentorship programme, starting with a taster day where potential young workers meet representatives from GTR and The Prince’s Trust before moving onto an informal interview where they share their interests and skills. After an initial assessment, trainees who are chosen are mentored by GTR employees, after which they are placed into jobs.

The Prince’s Trust says it goes the ‘extra mile’ to support young workers who are not chosen and trains them so they can be ready for another future opportunity.

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“A lot of our job is to work out ‘are they being shy on this occasion and whether they would benefit from a personal development course that builds their confidence to the point where this programme is the right fit for them,” Stowe said.

“That’s why these multi-year partnerships [like GTR] are so good, because we know there will be other opportunities coming down the line.”

Strengthening diversity in rail recruitment

“Rail generally has a typical profile of an ageing population so it’s important to ensure we are attracting, recruiting and bringing in new talent and skill.”

“For [the railways] to continue to be sustainable we need to think differently about our population and the people that we’re bringing into the railway industry,” said GTR head of employee experience Michelle Clark.

According to Clark, it is important for the rail industry to address the issue of the lack of young talent “because it’s not a natural step for young people [to choose the rail industry as a career path] for whatever reason and I think we need to continue to evolve that”.

“Rail generally has a typical profile of an ageing population so it’s important to ensure we are attracting, recruiting and bringing in new talent and skill.”

Clark added that the rail industry must tackle the issue of the lack of diversity, given that women account for only 12% of workers across the rail industry – with 8% of engineers and 5% of train drivers being female – according to government figures released in May 2019.

The aforementioned report also stated that because the industry has been hiring a specific demographic, it is witnessing a massive skills gap and will require 50,000 extra employees by 2033.

Clark said: “We need to challenge ourselves and ask a few questions around our existing working practices, recruitment, onboarding, and our training and say ‘Are they really inclusive? Do they give everybody an opportunity to get into to rail?’

“We need to think about the diversity of our workforce and make sure we’re appealing to people with different talents and skills… because, at the end of the day, we provide an important service to hundreds of thousands of people in local communities.”

Aside from recruiting more women, representatives stressed a need for the rail industry to recruit more people from different backgrounds.

Clark noted that the partnership with The Prince’s Trust aims to “give people an opportunity and perhaps a different career option that they hadn’t thought about before because often we probably all take for granted that we are given opportunities, but not everybody has that same level or range of opportunities available to them.”

GTR chief executive officer Patrick Verwer put it: “We believe young people should have fair opportunities in life regardless of background or the barriers they may face. ‘Get into Railways’ is helping us reach our shared goals: to enable young people to secure jobs and be active players in the economy.”

Giving young rail recruits a boost

“Some young people might not look good on paper, but present brilliantly face to face.”

Potential trainees don’t require a CV, academic qualifications or even work experience when enrolling for the scheme, employers said. Instead, requirements include soft skills, with the main prerequisite being a keenness to work in railways.

“Some young people might not look good on paper, but present brilliantly face to face,” said Stowe. “We’re looking for that spark in the eye that says this is the right opportunity for them, that attitude and that desire to succeed.”

At the press event, young workers who were recruited after participating in the GTR programme talked about their experience. Prayer Okpaka, who was recently hired as a dispatcher at London Bridge Station after completing the GTR programme in May 2019, said he had been thrilled to be invited to participate. “When I heard it was GTR I was like ‘oh damn’. I was just really excited to get started,” he added.

“They didn’t want A-levels or degrees,” said rail enforcement officer and former trainee Ben O’Day. “They just wanted to know that you’re happy to be here, have a passion and drive to put your skills to use and, most importantly, when you get onto that platform and when you’re on that train, you are going to be the best you can be.”

Looking forward, the initiative is set to be extended for two further years with a commitment to training at least 70 more young people.

Clark said GTR will be talking about the benefit of the programme with the Department of Transport with the aim of encouraging other rail companies to launch similar initiatives.