Rail News

Careers in Rail: Apprenticeships

The British Government has designated 2018 as ‘The Year of Engineering.’

This project expands on a longstanding commitment to improve the competence and competitiveness of industries in the UK. In addition to improving the attractiveness of degrees in engineering, especially among girls, the government has also widened the range of apprenticeship programmes and funded the set up of 5 National Colleges. This approach is important for the rail industry because many of these apprenticeships are in rail, and the National College for High Speed Rail was the second college to commence welcome learners onto its campuses in Birmingham and Doncaster.

Apprenticeships have become increasingly popular in the UK because of the opportunity to ‘earn while you learn’ and accrue skills which direct relevance to industry.

Careers in Rail

In this article Railway-News presents a round-up of the most important questions for potential apprentices to consider when deciding on a scheme. We also interview Clair Mowbray, CEO of the NCHSR, and 2 of the apprentices currently studying at the college. If you are interested in an apprenticeship in rail you should visit the government’s portal for apprenticeships, traineeships and internships. For details on any specific scheme, including the recruitment process and closing dates for applications you should visit the website for the particular provider who you would like to work for.

What Apprenticeships can I do?

There is a wide range of apprenticeship schemes across the rail industry in the UK: Network Rail and Transport for London (TfL) provide two of the largest ones, but several train franchises – Virgin, GWR and Arriva – also offer their own schemes. Crossrail is also running a scheme for the duration of the project.

The majority of these schemes focus on acquiring certification in engineering; Network Rail specifically offers Advanced Engineering Apprenticeships, but these include specialisms in Track, Telecoms and Signalling. Virgin has also started a unique programme to train apprenticeships as train drivers. A number of schemes are not in a technical trade, including finance and human resources. The range of technical specialisations is also very broad: TfL probably offer the largest range of specialisms including software development and cyber security. All providers offer different accredited qualifications, from HNCs (Higher National Certificates) to BTECs (Business and Technology Education Council). TfL also offers degree apprenticeships in in several disciplines, including Civil Engineering and Quantity Surveying, which pays for the cost of the degree in addition to a salary.

When can I do an Apprenticeship?

All the schemes mentioned in this article are recruiting now, but the closing dates for applications vary, so please check the websites for any which you are interested in as soon as possible. Virgin Trains recruits apprentice drivers for specific vacancies, so check their careers website regularly.

What will I get from an Apprenticeship?

The biggest selling point of apprenticeships is the opportunity to ‘earn while you learn’ and most apprenticeships in the rail industry offer generous remuneration packages, although this varies, depending on the provider and specialism; Network Rail offers approximately £9,500 in the first year, rising to an average of £14,000 in the final year; TfL offers at least £18,600, which includes the allowance for living in London. virgin pays its apprentice train drivers £15,000 per year. Other benefits include the standard benefits for contractual employment in the UK, including holidays and pension schemes. Apprentices in rail also benefit from free or subsided travel cards or season ticket loans.

How do I do it?

The duration and setup of any apprenticeship scheme obviously depends on the provider and there is a lot of variety between them, including between specialisms on a particular scheme. The average length of a scheme is 2 to 4 years, with specialisms related to engineering requiring the longest training periods. Network Rail requires all apprentices to spend 21 weeks at Westwood, its National Training Centre in the Midlands, which provides food and board.

What can I do with an Apprenticeship?

There is no requirement on any scheme to continue working for the provider after the completion of the scheme, but one of the principle attractions of an apprenticeship is the expectation of employment with the same organisation after completion of it. The qualifications gained by apprenticeships also serve them well across the industry, including the opportunity to work in other countries.

The export of technical expertise is one of the hopes for the NCHSR, as explained by Clair Mowbray. READ HERE:

Careers in Rail: Interview with NCHSR CEO Clair Mowbray

Find out what apprentices at the National College for High Speed Rail think about their training programme:

Careers in Rail: Interview with Learner Jonathan Tranter

Careers in Rail: Interview with Learner Megan Foster


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