MTR believes diversity within diversity is imperative in a workforce

Posted: 6 February 2019 | | No comments yet

When the rail industry discusses what a diverse workforce means, it is most commonly categorised by having a significant representation of women and individuals from BAME communities. However, it is rare for companies to consider, measure or actively pursue the less-talked-about aspects of diverse audiences.


MTR Crossrail HR Director, Alison Bell, spoke to Global Railway Review regarding MTR’s engagement with, and recruitment of, a workforce that includes a high proportion of young people, as well as recruitment of employees from homeless backgrounds, working with adults with learning difficulties and other audiences.

“When MTR Crossrail was awarded the operation of London’s new Elizabeth line in July 2014, we were effectively building a business from scratch with a target workforce of 1,150 in less than five years. Clearly the development of our recruitment strategy was vital to our success,” discussed Alison. 

“We had quite a task to undertake but it gave us an exciting opportunity to develop a recruitment strategy that was not only comprehensive, but where we were able to build in essential elements to engage with a whole range of audiences; helping us more accurately reflect the communities in which we operated.

“To us it was important to ensure our workforce was recognised by our local stakeholders as an extension of their local community, supporting any station’s integration into an area and securing MTR’s position as a diverse and equal opportunity employer. We wanted to reflect our communities in our recruitment strategy, so we sought partnerships with third-party organisations that could help us achieve our goals. The partnerships we developed across the business have been very successful, with 13 per cent of people recruited a result of our work with partnership organisations.”

Employing a millennial workforce

“We have undertaken a whole range of initiatives with young people, but recruiting a millennial workforce sometimes requires a different approach. We teamed up with partners like the Mayor’s Fund for London – Young London Working programme, where we were able to promote our opportunities through its website and its network of youth organisations.

“Through a very strong targeted recruitment campaign and various initiatives, we now have a robust younger workforce – 47 per cent of our train drivers are now under 35 and 52 per cent of the people on our apprenticeship schemes (in which we have approximately 400 apprentices) are in this younger age bracket too.”

Some of MTR’s diversity partnerships are an extension of existing links. Alison explained: “MTR Crossrail had already chosen Crisis as a charity to support and we continued to build on this positive relationship. We held an open day which saw around 50 people attend and this resulted in several people joining MTR as Customer Experience Assistants.”

Alison noted that when individuals are homeless it raises unique challenges to be an employee, and an employer, even after a person joins the workforce and the company has put additional measures in place.

“It has been a very positive learning experience,” commented Alison. “We continue to work alongside Crisis and our new employees to help support them with the challenges that they face, until they are able to achieve a more stable life outside of the work environment.”

MTR is keen to mould young people from an earlier age and encourage them to consider a career in the rail industry. Alison stated that the firm has been working with organisations that can reach students just prior to leaving education to provide them with experience and information on the future opportunities and the pathway that could lead them to the rail industry and MTR.

“In order to help an even younger demographic consider the railways as a career option, we also work with students prior to leaving school. One of the routes we use to do this is the Access Aspiration programme, another Mayor’s Fund for London initiative, which supports employability for young people. Through this we can reach young Londoners early on via a programme of structured work experience, industry insight days and interview preparation workshops, just as they are making a decision on their career after school.” 

Some rail industry initiatives focus on inclusivity

MTR is also part of rail industry initiatives like TfL’s Steps into Work programme.

“We have collaborated on TfL’s Steps into Work programme for the past year which offers a 12 month scheme for adults with mild to moderate learning disabilities the chance to enjoy supported work experience and increase their skills base. We offer support throughout their 12 month journey, but also post programme when they are looking for a career in the rail industry.”

Alison confirmed that MTR has also undertaken significant work to encourage women to consider rail and actively apply for roles at MTR.

“We have undertaken comprehensive recruitment of the more ‘traditional’ diversity audiences. For example, our work to recruit female train drivers has seen us engage with both rail industry partners like Women in Travel and the launch of its ‘Women Returners’ initiative and Women in Rail Confidence Workshop with its WIR mentoring programme; as well as a very wide range of outreach work through non-rail bodies, organisations and communication tools. This approach resulted in a change in the makeup of our drivers, with 12 per cent of all MTR train drivers now being women; a significant difference to the industry standard.”

In order to maintain this, Alison mentioned that the company is looking for ways to introduce a number of flexible practices, open to both men and women, like job sharing, which will help to encourage applications and secure more women in the workforce.

Recruiting within BAME communities

For many rail companies, improved diversity is characterised by an increase in representation of BAME communities, and at MTR, this audience also forms an essential and significant part of its strategy.

“In the field of BAME recruitment we have had success with 67 per cent of our customer experience assistants, 67 per cent of our trainee train drivers and 28 per cent of our current qualified train drivers being from BAME communities,” Alison said, but it is diversity within diversity MTR believes important to highlight.

“At MTR, we want to make sure that all segments of our society are represented within our workforce. Of course we have developed a range of initiatives to improve the representation of women and BAME communities within our workforce, however, there are so many other groups that we can, and do, target. Often companies do not spend time developing relationships with groups that form more of a minority within our society, however, we feel it is both important from an ethical standpoint, as well as beneficial from a business perspective, to endeavour to engage with them.

“Reaching out to, and recruiting, a diverse range of audiences enables MTR Crossrail, our employees, our customers and the communities within which we operate to benefit and we are working hard to continually improve the diversity of our workforce. There is certainly more work to be done and other audiences that we still want to work with, and our on-going diversity strategy supports this objective.

“In order for our diversity recruitment work to be successful we need to ensure our employees understand diverse audiences, and the positive impact they can bring to our business and our customers. Therefore we provide a structured equality and diversity training programme, including e-learning modules and face-to-face support, which is undertaken by all employees as well as having Diversity Champions throughout the business that can support all staff within the workplace.”

Reaping the awards

“Of course it’s important to measure the impact of the work we have undertaken and continue to undertake. To this end we have successfully been accredited by the Employers Network for Equality & Inclusion’s (ENEI’s) TIDE benchmarking tool which evaluates diversity and inclusion activities and outcomes, combined with geographic and legislative data; measuring our approach and progress in this area.

“The positive impact of our diversity work can be seen in our everyday activities throughout the business, however, we have also been recognised formally by the human resources industry. In 2018 we were proud to be presented with the Best Approach to Recruitment Award for our diversity recruitment work at the HR Excellence Awards, which was one of several accolades we received in this field.

“Our equality and diversity strategy continues to evolve and we remain committed to improving MTR’s diversity profile. We would certainly encourage everyone in the industry to engage more with the UK’s talented diverse communities and if anyone believes that there aren’t enough business benefits, MTR can assure you that the positive impact that our diversity work has had on our workforce, our stakeholders and our bottom line is certainly worth the investment.”


diversityAlison Bell is a Chartered Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and joined MTR Crossrail as HR Director in August 2014, a month after the firm won the contract to operate the Elizabeth line. Alison was previously Senior HR Business Partner and Deputy HR Director at London Overground.

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