60 Second Interview: Rail apprentice

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Rail signals

In this special interview for Rail Week 2017, we talked to Megan about her apprenticeship in signalling and telecoms. She told us about her role and what she loves about it, and shares the story of how she got there.

Name: Megan Ablott

Company: Carillion Rail

Industry: Transport & Logistics

What is your job? Signalling and telecoms apprentice

How long have you worked here? Approx 14 months

1. What did you want to do when you were at school?

I was never entirely sure what I wanted to do when I was at school, I had a strong interest in geography where infrastructure and travel interested me the most. My first job in infrastructure was at East Midlands Airport for a temporary summer job as a check-in agent. I enjoyed meeting the flights at night and seeing how the engineers checked and maintained each plane. It was here where my interest in engineering really began.

2. How did you find out about the industry?

I started looking into apprenticeships when I was 20 years old, which I thought was possibly a bit old to start an apprenticeship but would be well worth it in the future. I saw the signalling and telecoms engineer apprenticeship online and thought it sounded really interesting and like something which I would enjoy. I did some research online before applying as it seemed like quite a specific job role which at the time, I didn’t know much about. It combined my interests of infrastructure and engineering so seemed perfect for me.

3. How did you get there?

From working at the airport I knew that I wanted to be in the transport/infrastructure industry. I applied and firstly had a telephone interview and was then invited to the Carillion head offices in Wolverhampton. The interview process in Wolverhampton was split into 3 sections; a team building exercise which involved building a car and a bridge out of Lego in a team, there was then a one to one interview with a Carillion employee and it finished with an electrical knowledge test.

4. What does your job involve?

Designing, installing, testing and project planning for signalling and telecommunication works.

Telecoms includes working within stations doing things such as CCTV, sound systems, information screens and telephones. It’s also work out on track such as ‘Signal Post Telephones’, which help the train driver contact the signal box should they be stopped at a signal and there is problem.

Signalling is what controls train traffic, such as the traffic light systems (green amber red; the posh name is 3 or 4 aspect signals). Signalling also covers level crossing, points (what moves a train from one track to the other) and the safety systems like automatic breaking on the tracks if a train were to pass a signal at red.

Infrastructure is essentially the physical items that allow the trains to run on including tracks

5. What is a typical day like?

Every day is different on my apprenticeship. I travel to lots of different parts of the country from Carmarthenshire to York, Birmingham to London. I look at the electrical location cases both by design on the computer and out on track. A lot of the work I have done with Carillion is renewals work. My most recent project is the Sheffield Tram Train project where I have worked with a team to renew the telecoms network from Meadow Hall to Rotherham.

6. What’s the best thing about your job?

I love that everyday is different and you can learn so much from all the different colleagues you meet. The job is adaptable so at the end of my apprenticeship I will be able to choose if I want a track-based job (signalling installer) or an office-based job (signalling designer).

7. What’s the most challenging part of your role?

The most challenging thing about my apprenticeship is learning all the new information needed to be successful once my apprenticeship is over. The trainers at Carillion are really helpful, informative and no ask is too big or too small.

There are four of us currently on the signalling and telecoms apprenticeship at Carillion and we have formed a close bond, which makes going away on courses a lot more enjoyable.

Putting the skills you’ve learned on the practice track into a real situation out on track with the Carillion engineers is always really interesting and beneficial to our learning. I have only been with Carillion a short time in comparison to some, but I feel like I have learnt so much.

8. What advice do you have for people who want to do what you do?

Go for it! It's the best job I've had and I really enjoy it. You learn a lot and feel valued as you learn unique skills that make you a valuable asset.

Do some research on the topic and contact companies directly. It makes you look keen if you ask for more information and will also make your name a bit more recognisable when you go for your interview!

9. What things do you wish you’d known before starting your career?

I wish I knew about the Carillion apprenticeship earlier than I did, I don’t think schools promote apprenticeships as much as they should, it feels like the concentration is mostly on A-levels. An apprenticeship can help you to get onto a good career path and learn valuable skills whilst also being paid and meeting lots of new friends.

10. Where would you like to be in 5 years?

In five years’ time it's my ambition to be a fully qualified telecoms or signalling testing engineer. During the 2 years of the apprenticeship you partake in 5 different placements: signalling design, signalling testing, signalling projects, signalling installation and telecoms and so far telecoms and testing are the placements which I have most enjoyed.

To celebrate Rail Week 2017, we're giving you the opportunity to pose your questions to the rail companies themselves in our special forum - check it out here.

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