Among the unsung heroes of the rail industry but right up alongside the drivers and directors, the new cleaner and COSS, sits the railway recruiter.
Getting the right person for the right job may sound simple but in an industry with a huge and growing demand for highly qualified staff it’s a challenge like no other. Staff turnover is high, particularly in the south east, and demand is increasing as the railways limber up for massive expansion.
Andy Ridout, managing director of advance-TRS – one of the fastest growing rail recruitment companies in Britain – spoke to Andy Milne on his way to a weekend’s mountain biking in north Wales.
We meet in an old coaching inn in Hereford, wood panelled and redolent with that traditional smell of fried bacon and spilt beer. Andy Ridout, a fit and lean looking forty year old, drinks tea, potsofitasdoIforwesharea guilty secret: Dehydration.
Ridout is a runner – a serious long distance marathon runner currently training for one of the toughest triathlons yet devised. To get into the mindset of Ridout, I had been out running that morning as Andy swept smoothly up the M4 from his base in Guildford.
Recruitment is becoming hugely important as the industry flexes and expands. I ask him about the basics.
‘Recruitment is fundamentally about trying to match up candidates to companies. It’s matching a jigsaw puzzle. You’re matching individual skill sets to what’s required. It is not only about qualifications but geographics and longer term aspirations,’ says Andy.
How did he get into rail recruitment?
Ridout shrugs and pours out more tea. ‘I was a gym instructor in a track suit.’ Although happy as an instructor it’s a notoriously underpaid field. ‘I was living at home, couldn’t afford to move out. One of the gym clients said, you know you have the gift of the gab, why not go into sales. Thing is I’m not into hard selling. The gym instructor’s job was rewarding. I was helping people get fit – sometimes after an illness or an accident. I taught one woman in her 80s to swim.’
One day at the gym a weightlifter said he was in the recruitment business. ‘I asked what that was.’ The answer was intriguing: Linking people with the next stage in their career development echoed the therapeutic gym training he was already involved in. The idea took a while and several thousand miles to germinate.
Round the world
‘I decided aged 23 to trade in my old car, jack in the job and head off round the world.’ Most people may consider such a move foolhardy. Andy Ridout set out up the M3 to Heathrow Airport with no such misgivings.
‘I never regretted a minute of it. I went to Hong Kong, New Zealand, Fiji, Australia and the United States.’ During that time he worked as a painter and decorator in New Zealand, ran the High Sierras in California and swam off Bondi Beach. ‘It was great fun, the best thing I’ve ever done. I left a boy and came back a man…’
Travel broadens the mind illustrating as no amount of motivational speeches can, that life holds far more promise than most people ever dream of. Finding the right job, the right career move, can be the most important move you make. When he returned he decided to get a job in recruitment.
‘I struck lucky’
Early on Ridout spotted a huge opportunity in railways. ‘I struck lucky,’ he freely admits, ‘I thank my lucky stars that I ended up in rail recruitment.’ After 15 years in rail recruitment Andy Ridout went on to set up advance-TRS two years ago.
‘At first I rented a desk in an office. Things started going quite well. I made a few placements and the office above where I worked came up for rent. We took a risk and a leap of faith and expanded. Right from the start I was very lucky with staff. Slowly but surely the placements came in and we expanded.
My partner, Vicky Turner, has a degree in journalism, which has proved very helpful. She gave me a bit of a talking to and said you need to get your company name out there with advertising, web sites, social media and press releases. She took it all on and she’s done a phenomenal job.’
Setting up is tough and entrepreneurs work all hours. ‘It’s important to get on the supply list for major players. advance-TRS is now on all of them. We just signed up with Signalling Solutions which is a massive opportunity for us.’
Success is down to experience
‘I have 16 years experience of working in the rail sector. I know the business. I have placed people in a job ten years ago – people who have gone on to be project managers, project directors and even managing directors. So when they phone up to say I need a solid state interlocking design engineer to work on contract for 6 months in Birmingham they know I know what they’re talking about.
They haven’t got to go into detail. They don’t have to spend 45 minutes trying to explain and when they get a CV from me they know it’s worth reading.
Fundamentally it’s about having the experience and understanding change.’
The rail industry is definitely changing he says. ‘Think Crossrail, Thameslink, HS2, electrification and increased investment nationally. There’s new confidence – and there’s going to be a lot of work in the rail sector for many years to come.’
Punishing exercise schedule
Ridout works long hours and brackets the working day with a punishing exercise schedule. This September he is taking part in the Horseman Xtreme Triathlon, one of the most challenging triathlons in the world. The event takes place on Dartmoor.
After a 3 mile lake swim comes a 116 mile road race followed by a marathon. Even for a one time gym instructor it seems a tall task. ‘There’s quite a bit of lift in the course which is why it’s called an extreme event. Most triathlons are on the flat.’
Life has its serious side. Ten years ago a friend contracted breast cancer and died. Andy decided to run the London Marathon to raise money for a cancer charity.
‘That was the start of it,’ says Andy who will be doing the Horseman to raise money for the Railway Children charity. ‘I then tried a mini-sprint triathlon and loved it. The idea of doing triathlons stemmed from that.’ He’s competed in the Barcelona Ironman and then set his sights on an Extreme Ironman.
Training is essential
‘I do a 10 mile run to work, vary it with a cycle ride and go for a swim.’ This sounds like an exhausting start to a working day. Not so. ‘I see deer, foxes, badgers, and rabbits. The wildlife early in the morning has to be seen to be believed.’ The great advantage of running is its comparative silence, enabling the runner to get quite close to animals.
‘I know where to look for them and where the deer tend to graze at 6 in the morning. Running through the fields, not a car in sight, dew on the grass and the sun rising is just perfect.’ Far from tiring him out Ridout arrives at the office, ‘punching the air with adrenalin.’
The Horseman Triathlon down in Dartmoor takes place in one of the most beautiful parts of Britain. Dartmoor is the biggest and wildest area of open country in southern England. Steven Spielberg filmed part of ‘War Horse’ on Dartmoor, bewitched by the open moorland with its huge stone tors and herds of wild ponies.
To prepare, Ridout is taking part in various events every other weekend. These include the Reading Half Marathon, cycling there first and the Windsor Triathlon. In April he will be competing – with a difference – in the London Marathon.
‘The London Marathon for me is about doing it, completing it. I will have cycled 116 miles beforehand that morning,’ says Andy, whose favourite sport is swimming. ‘I love swimming. Trouble is it’s the worst event to be good at as it only lasts a short time.’
The main challenge of the triathlon is an ability to switch from one transport mode to another. How do you prepare for this? ‘The race is now, through the spring and summer and on till September. On the day itself you do everything you’ve been doing for the last year.
You have to do brick sessions
That is do a run and as soon as you finish do a swim or a cycle ride. So I’d cycle home from work and then go out for a ten mile run. In the mornings I cycle and then go to the lake and swim before cycling on to work.’
Andy swims at the Quays at Mytchett. ‘It’s a lake with a water ski club. They can’t start till ten; so between 6 and 9 we can use it with a marshal there.’ Donning a wet suit he slips into the water as the sun is rising. It is still very cold. ‘Getting there at six I can see swans gliding across the still lake, the sun is just coming up. There’s nothing better.’
‘I don’t have a coach but I read the magazines and the web. I have mates who do it and there are local tri-clubs but I do most of it on my own. I have to be flexible because I’m away in London or elsewhere presenting.’
‘When you work under pressure it is quite good to go out on your own. I find it’s a good time for thinking, for straightening things out.’
All this exercise must need fuelling
‘When you exercise as I do, you can’t eat enough. I had an Italian grandmother so I love pasta. I live off porridge and I can microwave this at work. It’s a slow release energy food and really helpful.’ What about alcohol? ‘I like a beer with mates but it doesn’t work. No, I don’t really drink much at all.’
The schedule makes huge inroads on time available for any sort of personal life. Andy lives with girl friend Vicky Tuner who runs PR and marketing as well as their home, with considerable skill and patience.
‘Can I say a big thanks to my team. I couldn’t do this without them and a special thanks to Vicky – she is very special.’ Ridout may work and train hard but he can show a girl a good time, nipping off to France for a weeks skiing over Easter with Vicky and their children. Will he be training? ‘I’m not saying until I’ve got her safely on the plane…’
Check out Andy Ridout’s page at uk.virginmoneygiving.com/AndyRidout