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Young Rail Professionals – Opportunity and Progress

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Newly re-elected chairman of Young Rail Professionals is determined for the YRP to reach a bigger and more diverse audience than ever before.

I’m delighted to be writing as the newly re-elected Chairman of Young Rail Professionals. I’m the first chair in our modest history to run twice, and looking at my day-job diary (as Sponsor for Euston Station at HS2 Ltd), I’m trying not to regret it!

Joking aside, I wanted to lead YRP for another year because post-COVID is probably the most exciting, disruptive period of rebalance and regrowth any of us will experience in our lifetime. Like many others I am daunted by change and the great unknown, but I take enormous solace in what has come before and the trajectory that our industry was following until everything ground to a halt last March.

Many of my fellow Young Rail Professionals (both those young in age and those older but fresh to the industry) will number in one of the only generations with cause to wonder if rail really will provide a “career for life”. With uncertain and somewhat pessimistic passenger demand forecasts, dangerously high industry costs and a legacy of poor public perception of the railways, you could forgive them for worrying about their future.

However, this uncertainty can be a good thing for those less experienced in the industry. Being new and agile allows for adaptation to change with greater ease. Operating with fewer ties in a changing industry opens opportunities to make one’s name, capitalise on career openings and accelerate through a sudden meritocracy like never before.

During my association with YRP I have witnessed a year-on-year improvement in how the industry expects diversity and equality to be prioritised in how we operate and promote ourselves to the world. I have seen the YRP gender balance improve, greater ethnic representation on YRP committees, and this year is the first with equal male and female YRP Company Directors. There is an assumption built into every decision that we make; only fair, equal, and highly moral outcomes are acceptable.

This is a brilliant platform from which to execute change. Early career professionals treated with respect and recognised for their essential role in solving the rail skills gap will quickly become the next generation of leaders, entrepreneurs and problem solvers.

HS2 is an excellent example of the new generation of railway industry players operating under such high expectations. Through job creation, extremely high standards of organisational equality (in February HS2 achieved Platinum Standard accreditation from Clear Assured in inclusive best practice, the only organisation in the UK to have ever achieved it) and world-leading targets for sustainability, HS2 is creating opportunities for Young Professionals to lead and enact change. The rest of the industry cannot be far behind – net-zero carbon targets and increasingly competitive tenders will drive a change in operations and approach, and the limited pool of resources will mean companies will need to exhibit the high standards of equality and morals expected by the younger workforce in order to attract and retain staff.

The change underway in rail is not limited to its workforce. Our contribution to a more carbon-sustainable future will be critical for the transport of our nation, the life-blood between cities and regions. Massive improvements in the accessibility of our infrastructure and services are moving the public perception of rail from an industry of the 19th to the 21st century. Those prepared to take risks to accelerate these changes are those that will benefit most- and who are amongst those most able to take risks? Early career professionals with a strong forward look and a healthy scepticism for the conservative, safe past.

Don’t get me wrong- I love reflecting on our past and take great strength from the incredible history on which our railway is built. I also don’t think that the status quo is automatically wrong. But, much like a strong safety policy, the right mix of established foundations and evidence combined with an ever-striving will to improve and adapt can only improve what our elders have achieved.

This year with YRP I am determined for us to reach a bigger and more diverse audience than ever before. On the track to recovery, rail is going to need a levelled-up workforce with new skills – skills which keep our technology current, our customer service at the forefront and our productivity sector-leading. I want YRP to provide the community for Young Professionals to rapidly develop and network – to learn from their peers and teach others too – to accelerate their careers and step up to the myriad challenges which face us.

Just as the pioneer railwaymen transformed a world without railways, our Young Rail Professionals must bravely take on the challenge of transforming this world for the generations of tomorrow.