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Being heard

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Bombardier graduate Paul Burkholder talks about joining the rail industry and a project which is giving a voice to graduates and apprentices in his company.

It’s understandable for graduates joining the rail industry this autumn to be daunted by the prospect. Thankfully through the support of cross-industry organisations and events, the complexity can be simplified and the transition eased.

Route to rail

My route to the rail industry came via university. I studied international business and economics in my native Canada. Technology proliferation, socio-political trends and environmental realities all frame our economic market and the organisations within it. I found the challenge of understanding and predicting their impact fascinating.

For my masters, I studied entrepreneurship and innovation in the Netherlands, where I worked within a team at KLM Airlines in business model innovation. Corporate entrepreneurship had captured my interest. I became fixated with questions of how to create conditions for innovation, how to optimally balance exploitation and exploration and what are the characteristics of tomorrow’s entrepreneurial team.

Following university, I sought to join an industry which adds economic and social value. Rail was a perfect fit; it drives economic growth while keeping us all connected and improving our accessibility. It indirectly enables knowledge sharing across communities, regions and countries, whilst directly featuring a range of innovative products and services.

I was attracted to the UK rail industry by the sheer size and scope of its value. Through transporting an astounding three billion passengers and 110 million tonnes of freight annually, it relieves the congestion and carbon impact of UK roads and creates a positive multiplier effect by unlocking new areas for economic development.

As a proud Canadian with a long- standing admiration for Bombardier’s ingenuity, I discovered the opportunity I was looking for in Bombardier Transportation’s UK graduate scheme.

Innovation Forum

On 1 September 2014, I found myself in one of the historic centres of the rail industry, Litchurch Lane in Derby.

Upon arriving in the UK, I saw the potential for an immense innovative shift all around me. The industry has a strong pipeline of projects and is approaching a period of high investment. Bombardier is open to exploring new product and market opportunities enabling it to compete in a changing global market.

At Litchurch Lane, I was surrounded by brilliant colleagues, whose knowledge, capability and initiative inspired me. Their introduction to the engineering world and the skill they possessed was incredible. Alongside a number of intrinsically motivated graduates, I felt that we could challenge today’s status-quo. However, being so new to the industry and organisation, I didn’t know how to put this feeling into practice.

The spark came in the form of a challenge. At an internal event, the Graduate Leadership Conference, a member of our executive team challenged us, as incoming graduates, to collaborate and shape the future of the rail industry.

Our response was the creation of the ‘Innovation Forum’. The concept was simple: Groups, made up of graduates and apprentices from across the business, would come up with new ideas or respond to challenges set by the organisation. Following a preliminary review, these ideas would be developed into business cases using innovation management techniques, training courses and executive guidance.

The developed business cases would then be pitched in a ‘Dragon’s Den’ format to executives and those who received a supportive decision would be given further incubation and have the organisation’s resources leveraged around them.

In the pilot year of the Innovation Forum, one of our groups recognised an emerging opportunity, guided it through the process and successfully formed an independent business unit.

With a 2015 graduate intake of 32 motivated individuals and a returning graduate and apprentice community, we are all looking forward to the commencement of a second iteration of the Innovation Forum on 19 November, 2015.

While still only in its infancy, our aim is for it to be a vehicle of sustainable innovative progress. We hope it will evolve into an open innovation incubator, where people from across and outside our industry can collaboratively shape breakthrough products, services and business models.

In joining our industry, I urge you to inject youthful ingenuity and original thinking into your role and organisation. With the world-class capability the rail industry possesses and its immense potential for further innovation, I hope we can collaborate together and propel our industry forward, creating value for our customers and society.


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