Industry Spotlight: Transport & Logistics - Rail

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This article is part of our Industry Spotlight series - based on our popular emails - where we focus on a different Career Zone in each article. To help students learning from home during the Covid-19 lockdown, each article comes with a worksheet which you can download here.

Today's newsletter is your ticket to a career in rail.

Read on for all the key info, and click the links to learn more.

What's rail all about?

Railways transport people and goods all over the country - and even between mainland Europe and the UK thanks to the Channel Tunnel. But careers in the rail sector aren't just about driving trains - engineers look after the thousands of miles of track, while customer service teams work as conductors on trains and keep stations running.

Workers on a railway line

Then there is all the work that goes into upgrading and building new lines, plus the bridges and other features that have to be built to accommodate the network. And of course, rail employers need the marketing teams, IT, HR and finance staff, project managers, and all the other supporting roles that every business needs to keep things ticking over. View Career Zone -->

What jobs are out there?

  • Architecture: Architects design stations, tunnels, bridges and other features on the rail network. They work with engineers to make sure the designs are safe, cost-effective and eco-friendly.
  • Engineering: Engineers design, upgrade and maintain lines and "infrastructure" such as platforms, stations and bridges along the railway. Electrical, mechanical, civil and software engineers all work in rail.
  • Art and marketing: Come up with memorable artwork and ad campaigns to promote rail operators and other organisations such as Network Rail and Transport for London.
  • Interior design: Design the furnishings such as seat covers inside trains, as well as within buildings on the network, like stations.
  • Software development: Software is used to keep track (sorry, couldn't resist) of trains running on the network, and keep travellers and staff updated.
  • Customer service: Ticket inspectors, conductors and train managers, platform staff and ticket office staff all make up the customer service teams.
  • Archaeology: Building new railways means digging up a lot of earth - often uncovering forgotten historical artefacts below the ground.
  • Environment: Make sure rail projects have as minimal an impact as possible on wildlife and the natural environment. Environmental crews even relocate animals and plant trees if needs be.
  • Construction: Construction workers lay new track, build new infrastructure, and upgrade and repair old lines, facilities and equipment, and buildings.
  • Maintenance: Maintenance engineers make sure the track and infrastructure is working reliably and safely, and fix any problems.

Check out this video for your quick guide to 6 surprising rail jobs:

Who will I work for?

Employers include Network Rail, who own and manage the track, and the rail operators who run train services on the line. Then there are companies set up to handle specific projects, such as Crossrail and High Speed 2, and organisations like Transport for London, which run particular networks like the London Underground. On top of this, there are numerous contractors who carry out particular projects, like design engineering or software consultancy.

Find out more about the different kinds of employers you can work for in this article.

Am I cut out for it?

The honest answer is: probably! As you can see from the list above, there are so many different jobs in the sector that there's something for everyone. Here are some general benefits a career in rail can offer:

  • UK travel: Engineers, architects, environment crews, train drivers and on-board staff travel regionally and nationally. There are many opportunities for others to travel around the country meeting clients and colleagues.
  • World travel! Depending on your role, there are opportunities to visit other sites across the world to visit manufacturing sites, learn new skills and secure new contracts with suppliers.
  • Job security: Jobs are being created all the time, and 100,000 new vacancies are expected over the next decade.
  • Make a difference: Whether we travel by train or not, we all rely on railways to transport our goods around the country.

Is a career in rail future proof?

Yes! High-tech tools are being developed all the time to make trains more autonomous. Software is also the bread and butter of websites and apps like the Train Line and National Rail Enquiries.

We are in a new era of railway expansion, with thousands of people working on High Speed 2, which will connect London to the Midlands and later the North and Scotland. Then of course there's Crossrail. And people are already talking about Crossrail 2 and High Speed 3!

How do I get there?

Apprenticeships

Train at a station

Apprenticeships are available at the intermediate and advanced level. To begin an intermediate apprenticeship, you'll need 5 GCSEs, to start an advanced apprenticeships, 2 A-levels:

With a rail engineering track apprenticeship, you'll train to work on the track and other parts of the line, fixing signals, and maintaining the train tracks.

With a rail services apprenticeship, you could specialise in customer service, moving trains from one place to another ("shunting"), signal operation or control room operation.

rail service apprenticeships is for you if you'd like to become a train driver, train manager or conductor.

Find out more about rail apprenticeships on this page.

University

University is the option for you if you want to work in high-skilled areas which generally require a degree, such as architecture or the design part of engineering.

What can I study?

There is a wide range of options, including:

  • Engineering: Civil, electrical and mechanical engineering degrees or a general engineering degree specialising in one of these areas.
  • Computer science: The rail industry relies heavily on computer technology, for the systems used to keep the rail network running smoothly, to onboard computers designed to aid the driver and automate processes.
  • Architecture: Architects are the creative sparks who come up with novel designs for key features of the rail network such as stations and bridges. To become a fully qualified architect, you need to study and train for 7 years.
  • Any degree: Roles in finance, marketing, project management and so on don't require any kind of degree.

How do I find a job?

A skills shortage in technical roles, plus the growing number of jobs in the rail sector, means graduates are in a good place to find work. Here are some techniques you can try to find any kind of graduate job in rail - whether it's technical like engineering of software, or a support role such as finance or HR:

  • Graphic of a train
    Search for graduate schemes with rail employers like Transport for London, Crossrail, Network Rail and High Speed 2.
  • Also look for grad schemes and vacancies with contractors - companies who work with the rail industry. This includes engineering firms, software consultancies and even professional services companies.
  • Architecture graduates are often offered work with the employer who provided their training placement.

More resources:

Images: Lead image and head-on train icon via Freepik, Rail engineers via Flickr, Train waiting at platform via Geograph, Workers in Crossrail tunnel via Flickr

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