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Young Rail Professionals – passing on the baton

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Fiona Westcough

Over the last year, I’ve written a series of editorials in RailStaff which voice the views of my peers – young professionals in rail, and the future leaders of our industry. Topics have typically been forward looking, debating how the industry could evolve its culture and ensure diverse opportunities to attract new talent.

However, I’m now taking the time to look back and reflect on what has been a busy, but fantastic year, both for the Young Rail Professionals (YRP) and myself, personally. Stepping into the position, my vision as director was to raise awareness of the vital role young people play in ensuring the industry has the skills and people it needs to succeed. Achieving such a feat involves collaborating with key industry organisations to ensure a focus on attracting and developing talent, refreshing our brand towards the Net Zero agenda, and promoting positive change associated with the Industry Equality, Diversity & Inclusion (EDI) Charter.

2022: promote, inspire, develop
YRP’s three pillars within our core mission statement are “promote, inspire, develop”; all our campaigns and events in 2022 were centred around achieving this mission. Our Annual Dinner in April provided a fantastic opportunity to promote and celebrate the achievements of rising stars, as well as supportive mentors, within our industry. Hosted at the stunning Emirate Old Trafford Cricket ground, we were honoured to welcome Mark Thurston, CEO of HS2, as our Keynote speaker for the evening. It was a truly dazzling event that was attended by some of the largest and most influential organisations and people from across rail.

The next pillar is to inspire – showcasing the opportunities of rail careers. In October 2022, Rail Week sought to achieve just that, by running a dedicated week of activity which aims to address the skills shortage in rail-related roles and inspiring a generation of young people through a series of events, site visits, and by being present at stations. Further to this, throughout 2022 our inspire team hosted multiple volunteering weekends at the Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Heritage Railway in Snowdonia.

The weekends provide a fantastic change to get hands-on volunteering experience on the railway. Additionally, Young Rail Tours (YRT) hosted its first international tour since the pandemic and took a group of 32 delegates on a railway study tour to Milan in September. The tour included a visit to the Alstom Savigliano Centre of Railway Excellence and the Azienda Transport Milanesi (ATM) Metro System.

Develop – helping people realise their potential. Many young professionals have not known a working world before the pandemic, and so this year has been about re-connecting our community and re-building a network for young professionals to thrive. Our regional committees have achieved just that, hosting over 70 events in 2022. Many of our development events focused on three key future themes: decarbonisation, EDI, and digital. However, be it webinars to networking socials (including mini golf, axe throwing and baseball), CV workshops to EDI debates, they have truly gone above and beyond to cover a broad range of topics and provide a fantastic range of opportunities for our members.

Looking into 2023
Moving into the year ahead, there are already some fantastic developments in the pipeline. We are delighted to announce that planning is well underway for our dinner on 13 April 2023, set to be at the Birmingham ICC. Kindly sponsored by CPC Project Services, we are delighted to welcome Ruth Busby, People and Transformation Director at GWR and Network Rail Wales & Western (a newly established joint role), to be our keynote speaker. I welcome you to join us for what will be a sparkling evening!

Furthermore, Young Rail Professionals (YRP) and Young Rail Tours (YRT) are supporters of the Jamaica Social Intervention & Community Rail Project 2023. The projects’ main objective is to restore the train service between Kingston and Culture Yard, Trench Town. This in turn will create many positive social outcomes such as stimulating cultural tourism and economic regeneration, rebuilding key transport links, and investment in skill development and job creation for local people in Jamaica.

YRT and its partners are planning to send a group of up to 40 UK professionals to undertake the ‘Working Tour’ of Jamaica in October 2023, to coincide with UK Black History Month. The tour will include five days on the working site in Kingston, where delegates will work with locals and other supporting organisations to deliver the final works required for service to commence running. Delegates will also meet and network with local rail professionals and students from University of Technology (UTECH) in Jamaica, to facilitate knowledge sharing and strengthening international ties. Before and after working on-site, delegates will also have the opportunity to take part in cultural activities and develop a greater understanding of the country as a whole.

Next generation
In April, I will step down as Chair of the YRP. After two happy years as a director of the company, I’ll be handing over the leadership to a new enthusiastic volunteer. I have had the privilege of working with brilliant volunteers throughout my time with YRP and I am so grateful to everyone for their input, patience, and grace whilst I have had the pleasure to lead the organisation. I am also grateful for all the fantastic opportunities it has provided me with, and industry leaders I have met along the way. Overall, YRP has been a fantastic learning curve for me, with many lessons learned that I will take forward as I progress further into what I hope will be a successful career.

My work to inspire the next generation, however, will not stop here! I still aim to promote both the engineering profession and rail industry at school careers events, and by becoming a school governor. Those who know me personally are also aware that I’m a competitive swimmer, with a little road cycling and running on the side. I’m set to take part in Ride London in May, with an aim of one day completing a half Ironman. Perhaps I’ll have a little more time to focus on training now!

Image credit: Young Rail Professionals