Does rail have an image problem? It depends who you ask.
Those who work within the industry don’t see it that way. Within rail there is a sincere admiration for the way the industry transports millions of people around the country every day with, on the whole, little fuss. They meet with skilled, dedicated people every day and see firsthand the amazing engineering expertise that drives the railway.
But the perception outside the industry is quite different. Praise isn’t so forthcoming from passengers who have caught one too many late trains and were you to ask a school leaver if they had considered a career in rail, their first thoughts may well be of Victorian steam engines and sooty overalls.
‘Our job as recruiters is to try and sell the industry as a whole to new candidates who’ve never been involved in rail,’ said James Wall, managing director of Ford & Stanley (pictured below). The Derby- based specialist rail and engineering recruitment company has grown substantially in the last couple of years – it will soon be opening 2,500 sq ft of additional office space next to its existing headquarters.
James feels the rail industry isn’t coordinated enough in the way it pitches itself outside of its normal circles. He recalls attending an engineering graduate recruitment fair at The Roundhouse in Derby.
At the centre of the exhibition was a Formula 1 car surrounded by simulators where aspiring engineers could navigate some of the most famous circuits in the world in a vehicle at the pinnacle of its sector.
The Roundhouse is a cherished piece of Britain’s railway heritage, yet rail engineering’s presence at the show was understated. ‘As an industry, we talk about it, but very little is done to actively promote rail as an industry of choice,’ said James, who believes Ford & Stanley’s approach is addressing this by recasting the typical role of rail recruiters.
Over the past 12 months, Ford & Stanley has added a number of new services to its business which James believes has moved the company away from the traditional ‘transactional’ relationship recruiters tend to have with clients – where they are contracted solely to fill a particular vacancy – to something of a skills partner.
The new offerings have come directly as a result of feedback given by clients and candidates through the company’s application of Net Promoter Score (NPS) – a widely recognised and adopted customer feedback index. As a result, the company created Talentwise, a service which sees Ford & Stanley provide candidates with workwear, tooling and training prior to joining a company, as well as completing all the necessary pre-employment checks and health screenings on the client’s behalf.
Ford & Stanley is now working with companies to look at how they can improve their in-house recruitment processes and external brand perception. The company is also helping to forecast skills demand and availability for project bids. ‘We’re moving with the industry… As a recruitment business we’re speaking to clients outside of just taking a job on.
‘We’re asking them about their opinions and what they would want to see and what they need,’ said James.
It’s an approach which will benefit the industry as a whole, he believes. ‘If recruitment agencies start working that bit closer with their clients to become an extended partner, we have the opportunity to share these great stories and incredible projects, extract this information and shout about it to the outside world.
‘This isn’t the entire answer but it’s helping.’
Enterprise for Education (E4E)
Ford & Stanley is partnering with rolling stock leasing company Porterbrook on Enterprise for Education – an initiative which encourages both businesses to visit schools, colleges and community projects to talk to young people about the industry, teach them how to write a CV and explain what opportunities exist for them in rail.
The other area of focus is to bring more people in from other industries. Ford & Stanley is working with the Armed Forces’ resettlement support service, Career Transition Partnership (CTP), to bring more former soldiers into the industry. The company also recently visited Tata Steel to help find new careers for the hundreds of steel workers who have opted for voluntary redundancy.
‘I think we’re going to keep talking about a skills shortage in our industry for another 10 years unless we do something about it,’ said James. He went on to add, ‘Every rail client we go to has a resourcing issue. They talk about the age demographic, they talk about the lack of women in rail… Moving people from one rail business to another, that isn’t solving the problem.’
But bringing in staff from other industries creates its own challenges. Moving to a new industry is a daunting transition to make. To help candidates adjust, Ford & Stanley provides one-to-one support for the first 100 days of their employment through its GENIUS onboarding programme. ‘One recruit can transform a business,’ James explained.
He wants to see the same level of investment that is made available for training put towards programmes designed to attract new candidates. ‘One individual can transform a whole business in a positive way,’ he continued. ‘They can launch a whole division, they can win a bid as a result of expertise within that team, they can make changes around a service delivery or design function. Just one recruit can do that. Now that’s the power, for me, of working in tandem with a recruitment partner.’