1. Please give an overview of your role and what this involves on a day-to-day basis:
The role in which I am being trained on this apprenticeship is for a signalling maintenance technician. As a result of this, in my second and third years I am working with relevant teams in this department in order to gain an understanding and practical knowledge of the tasks involved in this role. For example, an average day could consist of carrying out routine preventative maintenance, as well as rectifying any faults which may come in.
In addition to this there are placements in other departments, such as Permenant Way (Track) and the Operations Business to enable an understanding of the larger picture and how different sectors of the company integrate.
In the first year training is carried out in our portion of the engineering school at HMS Sultan, which is more of a college environment.
2. Have you learnt any new skills or developed existing skills?
Within the first year, which is spent in a training school, I have improved my BTEC Level 3 in Electrical Engineering grade, as well as acquired an NVQ Level 2 and Institute of Leadership and Management Level 2 qualification. This gave me the underpinning knowledge of engineering and the railway to then improve upon my practical skills out in the field, particularly when fault finding. Another area in which I have developed skills was in the railway specific training, which has given me the competancies to go trackside, use trolleys, powered hand tools, and first aid training.
3. To what extent do you enjoy your programme?
I thoroughly enjoy this programme, and believe that for me, it is a career rather than just an apprenticeship or job. I cannot see anything else that I would rather be doing. I never wanted to be stuck behind a desk doing the same thing day-in, day-out, but here every day is different and you know you'll never have to sit inside all day.
4. How valued do you feel by Network Rail?
Unfortunately, too many people don't know what an apprentice is within the company to feel entirely valued. There is also an unfortuate lack of communication sometimes between management and the teams on the ground, which leaves you feeling forgotten, and team leaders unaware that you will be joining them, or for how long.
However, on a more positive note, the people on the ground actually seem to genuinely appreciate and respect you, and your opinions, so in that respect I do feel valued. It's just unfortunate that at the times the management can let you down.
5. How well organised/structured is your programme?
With the exception of the Insitute of Leadership and Management (ILM) programme, the apprenticeship is well structured. Within the first yea the training is done in an enviroment similar to college, which gives a background knowledge, which can then be put into practice during the second and third years where you are out on the railway. This means that you can focus on getting the qualifications to begin with, and then get immersed into the work without having to worry about them in the second and third years.
The reason I mentioned that the ILM part of the programme is not so successful is that they include it yet have no real understanding that you are not responsible for leading any teams out on the operational railway, so some of the assignments required are neigh on impossible entirely truthfully due to this.
6a. How much support do you receive from your training provider?
Within the first year, where the majority of the formal training is carried out, the training is provided by Babcock contractors. The quality of their teaching, and the effort they put into the job is very good, and only occassionally are they let down by the fact that they do not come from a railway background (the majority are ex-military personnel or from other engineering fields), however they are always willing to enquire and learn if they do not know the answer to something specific to the railway. If extra help and assistance is required then they will happily provide it. There is also support staff available for any personal issues which may arise.
For the remainder of the course the majority of the time mininmal contact is had with the training providers, who in this case are Network Rail. When you are on a training course with them though, the quality of training is exemplary, and they are also willing to accomodate any needs.
6b. How much support do you receive from your employer?
The support which is given by the management directly above me is generally good, alhough there are time constraints as to how much time they can afford due to their other responsibilities. Where possible they do wish to ensure that you are uptodate with all work, and are progressing and integrating into the teams well. If there was an issue I would not feel unable to talk to them, but fortunately this has not been necessary.
7. How well does your salary/package meet your costs?
I find that the salary is more than enough to both live off and have money to spend and/or save. As someone who was relocated by the company I am given extra money in order to cover the costs of a rented property and some of the utiliies attatched.
8. Are there many opportunities outside of work?
Within the first year there are many opportunties which can be done outside of work, ranging from sporting events, inter-house events, and trips arranged to activities such as paintballing, "Go-Ape", and skydiving part funded by Network Rail. There are also events to raise money for Network Rail's chosen charity, such as half-marathons.
In the second and third years there are no arranged events as the cohorts are split over the country into their respective depots.
9. Would you recommend Network Rail to a friend?
They are a good employer which ensure that you will have a varied and interesting career, providing you are willing to be out in the elements at all times of the year. It is a fantastic opportunity to meet people from all over the country and from all walks of life as well.
10. What tips or advice would you give to others applying to Network Rail?
Don't apply if you're only interested in trains, and not engineering, or the railway and it's workings as there is minimal contact with trains/locomotives, and without some other interest in the work it may not be what you were expecting. Equally, it is not required to have any interest in trains to enjoy the work.
When applying, do your research about the different disciplines (Signals, Track, Overhead Lines, Electrification & Plant, and Telecomms) to see which suits you and your interests best. For example, Track and OHL are more suited to someone mechanically minded, whereas Signals and E&P are more electrically based, although there is some degree of overlap. Also consider which depot to apply for, as a journey which doesn't seem too bad on paper can seem drastically different after a 12 hour night shift!
If you get in, and find the first year not what you were expecting, stick it out, and remember that life is very different back in the depots. Keep on track of the assignments, and stick it out until you can experience the job properly.
PS: Remember it's NETWORK Rail, not National Rail! We don't sell tickets.
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