What Network Rail is looking for in new recruits

If you enjoy problem-solving, love working as a team, and are looking for an exciting and rewarding career, then an apprenticeship at Network Rail could be a great opportunity for you.

Apprenticeships at Network Rail are designed to provide you with practical on the job training mixed with classroom-based learning. You will be earning whilst you are learning, and you will be supported by experienced colleagues, allowing you to thrive in the rail industry.

After completing the apprenticeship scheme you will be set up to take the next step on your career journey. With several years of experience, nationally recognised qualifications and a large support network, there are great opportunities ahead. We talk to Freya Horrocks, Finance New Entrants Scheme Manager for apprentices, graduates, year in industry and summer interns at Network Rail, about the opportunities for apprenticeships in the company.

AAT qualifications are a key component

The AAT qualification provides apprentices with a fundamental basis for learning and helps them gain practical skills and real-world accounting knowledge. The exposure and experience AAT provides in the early years of the scheme sets them up to move onto their Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) qualification. By the time an apprentice has finished the scheme they have 5 years’ experience, a strong network, and an excellent set of transferrable skills and their AAT qualification is a key part of their professional journey.

What skills are you looking for in your new recruits?

Some of the key qualities we look for include good communication skills, adaptability, a problem-solving mindset, collaboration and resilience. 

In an increasingly virtual world, where communication can be more challenging, demonstrating a skillset in effective communication and adaptability is key. Especially as the roles comprise of working with different colleagues across the business, in different functions and at different seniority levels. 

We empower our recruits to be proactive, to challenge, to look for improvements and to help the business develop viable solutions. A willingness to learn and having a problem-solving mindset will help a recruit to add value to the organisation by solving real world problems and developing their professional and personal skillsets.

What does a career at Network Rail offer? 

We invest in our people because we want them to be the future of our business and Network Rail offers many benefits that help employees to develop both personally and professionally.

Our apprenticeship, graduate and sponsorship schemes provide employees the opportunity to pursue a professional qualification while carrying out roles within the organisation. Whilst completing placement rotations in various finance teams, significant study support is provided. Apprentices have scheme managers supporting their development needs and dedicated college and study days for their AAT course. New recruits are not limited when it comes to experience and opportunity and our schemes help support employees in identifying the direction, they want their careers to take.

Network Rail actively encourages employees to drive their own career path, while offering support systems such as mentoring, buddies and coaching. These support systems allow colleagues to provide advice, guidance, share previous experience and act as a soundboard. By the time an apprentice has finished the scheme they have three years’ experience, a strong network and an excellent set of transferrable skills. 

What is the culture like at Network Rail?

Lots of colleagues are now working virtually and we encourage exposure to different areas of the business and people up and down the finance chain despite remote working.

We are also continuing to build a more diverse and inclusive organisation which is representative of the passengers we serve. As a company we are committed to improving access and inclusion; ensuring that all employees have access to everything that they need to do their job. We believe that investing in our people is one of the most effective ways of improving the safety, reliability and efficiency of the railway. To learn about the benefits we offer please click here.

What is life like in this sector? 

The work is engaging and wide-ranging in Finance, with opportunities to work with Capital expenditure, Operational expenditure, Income, Financial Accounting and Group Finance environments, with a wide range of different stakeholders. Due to the exposure and experience provided in the early years of the scheme, apprentices are often in demand to complete complex projects for finance leaders.

There is a significant emphasis on health and wellbeing within the company. We believe that safety and performance go hand in hand, and this doesn’t just mean safety on the railway. We are committed to the wellbeing of our employees. There are many internal and external wellbeing partnerships available to all employees and we also encourage a culture of flexible working and have several excellent employee benefits that support this.

How do you train staff? 

At Network Rail we empower our employees with the knowledge to help them progress. We encourage all our employees to be ambitious and offer great training and career development opportunities to enable them to do this.

As the railway becomes bigger and more technologically advanced, it is crucial that our employees have the right skills to develop their careers and meet the challenges ahead. We believe that investing in our people is one of the most effective ways of improving the safety, reliability and efficiency of the railway. This has recently been demonstrated through the dedicated Continuous Professional Development workstream that has been undertaken by the Finance Strategy and Development team within the company.

Network Rail also has a training catalogue containing over 1,000 skills and leadership courses, easy-to-access eLearning and award-winning new entrant and higher education programmes on offer to employees. It is vital to get everyone’s training programme just right, ensuring everyone has access to help them to achieve their personal and professional goals. 

Finally, our apprenticeship schemes are tailored to provide training and development opportunities and they also allow additional time off for studying. 

How do you manage career progression?

Career progression is managed through succession planning programmes and regular 1-2-1s with line managers. We aim to ensure employees are aware any opportunities available to gain the experience required to enable successful career progression. Apprentices are supported by their line manager, scheme manager and their apprenticeship talent coach in developing a Personal Development Plan (PDP).

Personal developments plans are used to identify skill gaps or development areas for the employee to support their progression and setting objectives to try and proactively develop the employee within these areas. As a company, we offer support on creating the PDPs and coming up with objectives aligned with the organisation’s objectives and individuals’ ambitions. We also encourage our apprentices to collaborate and attend development days and volunteering opportunities.

We also offer fantastic talent management programmes including our talent pools, where a collective of employees attend multiple different training courses to provide them with a necessary skillset for the transition into more senior roles within the company.

Career progression within the company could be in many forms. Lateral moves are very common within the organisation and provide employees with the opportunity to broaden their understanding of different areas within the business and diversify their skillset.

Our coaching and mentoring programmes also offer a very exciting opportunity for our people to grow and develop, gain the confidence to expand their influence, and to seek out new opportunities or be better in their current roles.  We have a significant number of mentors and coaches that have sought out these positions to help provide guidance and wisdom and act as a soundboard and hub of knowledge from the vast experience they have developed through their careers.

What are prospects like? 

As a company we are proactively working to ensure that everyone has access to training that will help them to achieve their personal and professional goals, as we know that it’s vital to get everyone’s training programme just right, which are often varied as people will be at many different stages within their careers. 

The long-term career prospects within the organisation are excellent and this has been demonstrated with many previous graduate schemes recruits now holding directorate level positions within Finance. There are also over 10 director level finance roles within the organisation for those that want to reach the very top, so there is no limit or shortage of opportunity for employees.

Our staff turnover rate is also very low, which not only indicates the culture we promote and work-life balance that is championed, but also the many opportunities that are available within the company. 

What skills is your organisation building?

As an organisation we are looking to build resilience, influencing, business partnering, self-development and leadership skills. We aim to create a diverse and inclusive workforce which is resilient and is full of finance professionals. Given that we are publicly funded, we are looking to instil behaviours of working and spending money efficiently and effectively, with managing public money sessions regularly being held to embed this.

Influencing, people management and business partnering are all directly related in our ability as finance professionals to provide forward looking analytical support to our business partners and colleagues that enables them to make informed decisions that consider the risks and opportunities.

The application process for our 2021 schemes are now closed. We will be accepting applications for our next intake in October 2021. To be the first to know please register your interest here.

There is lots of information on the finance apprenticeship scheme (includes dates our scheme will open and lots more).

Further reading:

Marianne Curphey is an award-winning financial writer and columnist, and author of the book How Money Works. She worked as City Editor at The Guardian, deputy editor of Guardian online, and has worked for The Times, Telegraph and BBC.

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