ScotRail: Giving responsibility and support to young workers is key [Case study]

07 October 2016 -


The Scottish rail operator does a lot to engage with young people, but its tough selection process and apprenticeship scheme means the next generation has to work hard to capitalise on the support they receive

Scottish rail operator ScotRail offers apprenticeships in engineering and customer service, including a Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award and Customer Service Level 2 SVQ.

They also offer a Certificate of Work Readiness, and every month they visit Scottish primary and secondary schools to talk about employment in general and working for ScotRail in particular.

Apprentice Programme Manager Michelle Murray explained why engaging young people is part of ScotRail’s everyday business, how they make it work and why other companies should be doing the same to be the best they can be – both now and in the future.

Investing in young talent

ScotRail wants to find future talent at an early age, and invest in them so that they will develop a great and fulfilling career with the company.

Murray said: “As a business we like to nurture and train young people – give them the right tools to progress. It’s great to see them work their way up in the company. I myself started working on a train at 18, then went into the training department, and eight years later I’m the Apprentice Programme Manager.”

A number of other employees, such as ScotRail’s HR Director, followed a similar path, which shows that the investment has really paid off.

100% on board

Working with young people doesn’t require a lot of convincing within the business.

Murray explained that she has always experienced ScotRail’s culture as being very team-orientated: “Support is a big part of how we work. One of our principles is ‘we are one team’, so being asked to support an apprentice or be a mentor never comes as a shock to anyone. Staff understand the positive impact they can have on an apprentice, and realise it is also an excellent opportunity for them to pass on knowledge and show they can train and support people.”

Finding the right fit In order to get talent in, ScotRail cast their net wide – from internal advertising to visiting schools all over the country.

The next step is a tough selection process.

After an online application, successful candidates are invited to an assessment day at the ScotRail Training Academy where they do a basic maths and English assessment as well as a scenario-based, problem-solving activity and presentation.

Then they go straight into a formal interview.

“We want to find out as much as possible about the candidate most questions are competency-based to spot the raw potential. ‘Do you volunteer?’ ‘When have you worked in a team?’ ‘Are you part of a sports team?’,” Murray said.

If the interview was successful, the final steps are a medical examination and a drugs and alcohol screening before the apprentice’s career at ScotRail can begin.

The apprenticeships

During the training weeks the apprentice learns about how the company works, and the contents of the entire apprenticeship are discussed. What do they expect from the programme? What does ScotRail expect from them?

There’s a ‘Residential’, where all apprentices stay in a hotel for four nights and take part in a lot of team-building and group activities – from time management to communication skills. “And it also gives us a chance to see how they cope,” Murray said.

Back at the training academy there’s a disability awareness course in partnership with the charity DeafBlind Scotland, customer service training, conflict management training and train emergency training.

“They get an excellent all-round and hands-on experience of the company. We give them the core skills; they put them into practice,” Murray said.

Bridging the gap

It can be “quite a shock” for young people coming from a school environment into the world of work. But Murray thinks that more and more, schools are promoting apprenticeships and inviting employers into their classrooms to give students a sneak peek of what the world of work is like.

“In the past five years apprenticeships have grown arms and legs,” she said. “Before that, it was all about going into further education. But schools are cottoning on to the fact that apprenticeships aren’t just for manual labour – they’re just as much about gaining qualifications.”

Thrown in the deep end – but with full-time support

Regardless of apprentices’ level of experience, ScotRail has its own way of showing them around the business. They receive the same policies and procedures induction as any other employee, and on top of that the all-important basics are very clearly explained.

Murray said: “From day one we are very clear about what it means to work for ScotRail, such as being on time, being professional, and using appropriate language when speaking to customers. We discuss what can happen if they don’t adhere to these standards, and the negative affect it can have on customers and the business.”

Of course, with such a strict approach a strong support network is essential. ScotRail emphasises the importance of building positive relationships throughout the company and makes sure that young people know where to go with questions or comments.

“They’re encouraged to use the support network and to speak up,” Murray said. “They’re never left on their own. They’ve always got the support of a member of staff.”

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