While the rail industry leans heavily on the time-earned knowledge of its more experienced staff, it also clamours for new ideas, fresh ways of thinking, and novel approaches to the many challenges it faces. That’s why apprentices and industry newcomers are also vital in keeping the wheels turning.
The RailStaff Awards prize for Apprentice or Newcomer of the Year recognises the outstanding contributions of individuals who are new to rail, or who have chosen to take a career change and become an apprentice.
Change of track
In 2018, Cameron O’Connell won the Apprentice of the Year Award, as it was then known. In 2015, Cameron suffered a serious back injury and was forced to quit his role as a communication systems operator in the British Army. He initially struggled to transition to life as a civilian.
However, the experience he picked up in the Forces, along with his transferable skills and sheer determination, helped him land an apprenticeship with Amey as an electrification and plant (E&P) engineer. Once in role, his hunger to learn and progress set him apart from his peers.
Having started the placement with no qualifications, Cameron completed a BTEC and a Higher National Certificate and, at the time of winning the award, he was working toward a foundation degree, all in electrical and electronics engineering. All the while, he was taking part in projects such as the East Midlands signalling power reliability and improvement works, where he helped to survey a 50-mile stretch between St Pancras and Bedford as part of a major upgrade.
“I’ve been on a bit of a rollercoaster ride since 2018,” says Cameron. “When I won the award, I had been at Amey for three years, and I left as a trainee electrical engineer. Soon after winning the award, I moved to Systra and, while working there, I completed my foundation degree and continued on to complete a Bachelors degree in Engineering. I went from working as an assistant engineer, to an engineer within a year.
“Following this, I moved to a small consultancy firm, FJDConsulting, where I worked my up to electrical design lead / senior engineer, and since then I’ve moved to Adcoms where I’ve now worked for 18 months as Lead E&P Engineer.”
“I’m currently working on a £4million project renewing the UPS systems for the telecoms assets in the Kent & Sussex Area. The work covers 300 sites over the region. Being the engineering manager I’m responsible and accountable for the design, survey, installation of the assets, to ensure the telecoms assets stay operational and are maintainable over their lifespan. It’s a big project, but it’s going very well so far.
Eye on the prize
Cameron’s story is an inspiration, but he’s always had a plan. After winning the award in 2018, Cameron told RailStaff: “I just want to keep going all the way to the top. I want to be the CEO of a major company one day.” Catching up with him recently, it seems he’s well on his way toward that goal, and he’s certain that winning the Apprentice of the Year Award has helped him on his career journey.
“Even after all this time my RailStaff Award is something that still stands out on my CV. It’s something that puts you at the forefront if you’re applying for roles. It’s definitely helped me get to where I am today.”
The story of Cameron’s meteoric rise is exactly what we like to hear at the RailStaff Awards.