One route into a railway career is to become an apprentice. Apprenticeships are an excellent way of gaining qualifications and workplace experience. As employees, apprentices earn a wage and work alongside experienced staff to gain job-specific skills. Off the job, usually on a day-release basis, apprentices receive training to work towards nationally recognised qualifications. Apprenticeships can take between one and four years to complete depending on the level of Apprenticeship, the apprentices’ ability and the industry sector. The minimum salary is £2.60 per hour (from 1st October 2012 this will change to £2.65 per hour); however, many apprentices earn significantly more. Anyone who is 16 years or older and lives in England can take an on Apprenticeship.
In this article, we talk to Zach Stebbeds who is a Customer Service Apprentice for the train operating company Southeastern, who operate trains in Kent, parts of Sussex and also the London metro. Their day-to-day work includes dispatching trains, keeping the station clean, assisting customers with their enquiries and offering assistance if needed, and also working in the ticket office.
Before you apply to be an Apprentice, you might be worried about the qualifications and experience which you need, but as Zach explains this shouldn’t be a problem:
No formal qualifications were required to secure the apprenticeship, however it helped that I had some customer service experience and was able to demonstrate that I could communicate clearly with people.
Your personal qualities are also a good factor which will be considered during your applications. Zach explains a little about which ones they think are most important to an apprenticeship at Southeastern:
Must be approachable, likes working either on your own, or in a team. Have lots of patience and be helpful. Be professional at all times. When a customer is complaining don’t take it personally, just do your best to help them. Do your job well.
You might be thinking about how you can progress further with your railway career, and a railway apprenticeship is excellent for this as training and encouragement are provided throughout. Your employer will support you through every stage of your development and help you to reach your own targets. Zach tells us a little about the way they can progress with Southeastern:
The company provides lots of support with formal training and career pathways, and we have been given the opportunity to see what happens in other areas of the company.
Zach told us that they wanted to get into the railway industry as it was a secure and steady job, and for many of you reading this it will be the same. Plus, you’ll have your passion for the railways to take with you into your work, and this will help you to excel at what you do. There will be many challenges during your apprenticeship which you’ll need to work hard at, but you’ll also enjoy yourself and meet new people as Zach explains:
I really enjoy doing the train dispatch and working in the ticket office. It’s also always nice when you meet nice customers and you’re able to help them with their enquiries.
Many rail operators and other companies related to the railway industry offer apprenticeships, and it all depends on when applications are open for each organisation. Some well-known apprenticeships are shown below but we recommend you check with your local train operating company too as many will offer placements at certain times of year:
- London Underground – Engineering / Operations / Track Maintenance.
- Network Rail – Advanced Apprenticeship Scheme.
- National Apprenticeship Service – Various Options.