Apprentices are now first in line to meet dignataries and VIPs at project sites. An enthusiastic PR campaign over the past couple of years appears to have shifted the view of apprenticeships. Comments about some apparent stigma around such schemes are beginning to feel less and less valid.
Such schemes are celebrated for the fresh talent they are bringing into the industry by widening the choice of routes to entry for young people.
In March, AECOM apprentices in Glasgow met their local MP. The visit was part of Scottish Apprenticeship Week – an awareness event that was also promoted widely south of the border by railway companies across the sector.
AECOM is one of the largest multi-sector engineering companies in the world, with that comes expectations of leadership on central issues like skills and diversity.
Russell Jackson, AECOM’s head of rail for the UK and Europe, said the company’s agenda reflected that of the industry as a whole. Issues such as skills, health and wellbeing – particularly around mental health – are at the top of its priorities.
‘Another of our priorities is around how AECOM’s scale and global capabilities can address the wider industry challenges,’ said Russell, detailing what he saw as the company’s main focuses in 2017. ‘That’s around the scale of the likely demand of the projects across HS2 and the affordability challenge that Network Rail has. How we can help with this and how we can respond to those challenges.’
AECOM employs around 650 people in its UK rail business – a substantial part of the rail division globally. As well as working on major projects like HS2, the Wessex Improvement Programme and Crossrail – for which AECOM has designed three of the new stations – the UK rail team supports the delivery of projects all around the world.
But its reach extends beyond these mega projects. The company recently celebrated the opening of Ilkeston station, which it designed. The station was funded by the government’s £4.5 million New Stations Fund – a far smaller project in terms of its price tag but one of significance for the communities in Derbyshire it will serve.
Having a constant flow of graduates and apprentices into the business is critically important. This year, AECOM is sponsoring the Apprentice of the Year category at the RailStaff Awards, which will be held at Coventry’s Ricoh Arena on 7 October.
Last year, the category was won by Billy Welch, an apprentice working on the remodelling of London Bridge station. Although a relative newcomer, Billy had managed to make a significant contribution to the safe delivery of the project.
Russell said he found it extremely satisfying to see new starters go on to become advocates for their industry. ‘That’s why I think this award is so important,’ said Russell. ‘This isn’t just about apprentices that are already at this stage of their careers doing great things it’s also recognition of the people that will be future leaders.’
Both recruiting new staff and cultivating the next generation are part of this strategy. ‘That happens and we encourage STEM engagement at all levels – it’s vital to explain and bring to life the huge potential of a rail engineering career,’ said Russell, when asked whether AECOM employees were regular speakers at their local schools and colleges.
A nomination could be another simple solution to this complex challenge.
Nominations for the RailStaff Awards are now open. Visit www. railstaffawards. com/nominate and submit an entry today