Making ScotRail an employer of choice for young people in Scotland
Neil Archibald, Head of Strategic Workforce Planning at ScotRail, writes that apprenticeships in Scotland have been hit hard by COVID-19. However, ScotRail is seizing this opportunity to actively develop its Early Careers strategy for the next generation.
Credit: ScotRail - Currently, ScotRail employs 22 apprentices, but the objective is to increase this tenfold by 2025.
ScotRail has just embarked on an ambitious plan to swell the number of apprenticeships that we offer over the next five years. There are many advantages to doing this in the short-, medium- and longer-term, as we face organisational and workforce challenges, develop our workforce and position ScotRail as a socially inclusive employer of choice across Scotland.
We want to create an engaging early careers experience which will help us to recruit and retain the next generation of our railway family.
The impact of the pandemic
The financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic means that apprenticeships in Scotland are down by 75 per cent year on year, and, according to the Scottish government, the unemployment rate of 16- to 24 -year-olds could increase to more than 20 per cent because of the impact of COVID-19.
It’s not enough to do the bare minimum to satisfy our obligations”
To help to combat this, we are setting ambitious targets in our Early Careers strategy. It’s not enough to do the bare minimum to satisfy our obligations. We have a unique business that can offer a wide variety of careers all over the country, and we are well placed to identify skills gaps and build programmes and pathways that will serve us well in the future.
Aspirations for the future
Currently, ScotRail employs 22 apprentices, but the objective is to increase this tenfold by 2025.
We’ll also be offering a clear career pathway, with opportunities for existing staff to take advantage of new and innovative early careers programmes, and we’ll engage more extensively with Scottish schools in each of the mainland local authority areas. This includes plans for enhanced placement partnerships and graduate and intern programmes.
We talk regularly to our current apprentices to make sure that they are getting as much out of the programme as they possibly can, and the feedback is really valuable.
Customer Service apprentice, Billie Irvine, who is 19, told us: “I would say go ahead and apply to ScotRail for an apprenticeship, because it does bring out really good opportunities. It’s a great way to get into the company, because you’re getting to explore all of the parts of the business and you’re getting experience in it all.” Billie is enjoying her time with us and, soon, we will be actively seeking more apprentices like her.
ScotRail will be doing all that we can to help those who have been hit hardest by the pandemic”
One third of 18- to 24-year-olds have lost jobs or been furloughed as a result of COVID-19, compared to fewer than 15 per cent of those aged 35 to 44. So, ScotRail will be doing all that we can to help those who have been hit hardest by the pandemic.
We also took on two teenagers who lost their jobs when the Gemini rail works in Glasgow was mothballed in 2019. One of them, Dylan Hutchison, 20, is now a fourth-year engineering apprentice: “I couldn’t believe it when ScotRail offered to take me on after I lost my job at Gemini. It meant that I could still work in the rail industry, which I love, and now I’ve got a lot more options to choose from when I finish my apprenticeship.”
The rail industry as a whole has a long and successful track record in offering apprenticeships in a variety of roles. Good as this is, we need to increase the numbers and broaden the scale of apprenticeships that we offer. And the skills aren’t just about working on trains. Often, the apprentices go off into a number of roles that could be very different to the programme that they went through.
Past ScotRail apprentices are now working in our social media team, in our HR department and in management roles across the organisation. Some of our senior managers started as apprentices.
Alex White, ScotRail’s Chief Operating Officer, recently helped us with communications during Scottish Apprenticeship Week, telling colleagues: “I was an apprentice myself, and I firmly believe in the value that our programmes deliver for young people, giving them valuable employment opportunities.”
We want ScotRail to be seen as an employer of choice for young people across Scotland and to change the perception of the company when young folk are looking for employment”
We currently offer apprenticeships in Engineering and Customer Service; however, as employers in Scotland have access to 100 modern apprenticeship programmes, we are developing plans to broaden our offering, and to increase the geographic reach of our work with young people. We want ScotRail to be seen as an employer of choice for young people across Scotland and to change the perception of the company when young folk are looking for employment. We know that they seek out companies whose values echo their own and who are committed, as we are, to diversity, inclusion and industry-leading training and development.
We will be investing heavily in new talent going forward; however, the return on that investment will be massive, resulting in better staff retention, cultural change and new ways of working. We are also updating our overall approach to recruitment and resourcing, modernising processes, embracing technology and focusing on attracting more diverse candidates, who are more representative of the population that we serve.
Young Person’s Guarantee
ScotRail is also supporting the Scottish government’s Young Person’s Guarantee, which was launched in November 2020 to help to protect young people from the economic impacts of COVID-19.
Scotland’s employers are being asked to support the Guarantee in up to five different ways, and ScotRail is proud to announce our commitment and support”
Its aim is that all 16- to 24-year-olds in Scotland will be either in paid employment, education, an apprenticeship or training programme or engaged on a formal volunteering or supported activity programme within two years.
The Young Person’s Guarantee is about supporting young people with opportunities that help to keep them in education or work. Scotland’s employers are being asked to support the Guarantee in up to five different ways, and ScotRail is proud to announce our commitment and support.
We will provide this through offering opportunities in apprenticeships, work experience placements, graduates programmes and other initiatives that are focused on supporting young people. ScotRail is looking forward to working with the Scottish government, its partners and other employers to provide the best opportunities that we can for our most affected young people, particularly following the COVID-19 pandemic.
A drastic skills shortage and ageing workforce
The transport sector is facing various challenges relating to workforce, skills shortages and increasing the skills of workers. At a time when some industries and businesses are experiencing significant challenges, with a lot of companies closing down, ScotRail can provide a wide range of employment opportunities across Scotland and across a number of disciplines.
There is no doubt, we have an ageing workforce, as does the wider rail sector, with a significant number of people forecast to retire in the next five to 10 years. This loss of resource, expertise and knowledge needs to be addressed to ensure that the impact on the business is minimal.
We’ve made good progress, as have many other train operating companies, particularly with the recent launch of our new careers’ website. However, we still have more to do.
One of the easiest ways to attract talent is by making sure that you develop and promote a strong employer brand. Employer branding is how you effectively market your company, including what employees can expect from your work culture and your overall mission.
A strong employer brand gives your company an edge in attracting high-calibre applicants, and also helps to retain top performers. We will take every opportunity to raise the profile of the company and the industry, working in partnership to focus on education, employability, environmental and economic issues that the railway in Scotland can support.
We have advanced plans to build a talent pipeline to reduce the time that it takes us to hire people, and we’ll be filling that pipeline with candidates who fulfil future skill needs”
We have advanced plans to build a talent pipeline to reduce the time that it takes us to hire people, and we’ll be filling that pipeline with candidates who fulfil future skill needs. Early careers interventions will become our default solution to workforce challenges, and we will be lowering the overall age of our workforce and significantly increasing our diversity.
In ScotRail, we have a commitment to becoming carbon neutral within 15 years. We are opening new lines in Fife, enhancing service provisions and Scotland’s Railway is increasing freight activity and investing in a new fleet. This all provides the right conditions for the rail sector to be more ambitious with our approach to early careers, maximising the potential to change the profile of our workforce now and in the longer-term.
Once COVID-19 is behind us, there will never have been a more exciting time to work in the rail industry.
Neil Archibald is ScotRail’s Head of Strategic Workforce Planning. Neil is responsible for strategic and operational workforce planning across the company, ScotRail’s recruitment and resourcing activity, workforce development and early careers activity. With a background in the public sector, Neil has worked in health and social care, environmental regulation and local government. He joined ScotRail in 2018.