Network Rail

In this case study we hear from Jamie Colgan of Network Rail. Jamie completed his Engineering Design and Manufacture graduate apprenticeship last year. We also hear from Graham Little who is Jamie's workplace mentor.

Jamie Colgan, Graduate Apprentice at Network Rail

Please explain how you found the graduate position and give some background as to what you were doing prior to being offered the graduate apprenticeship position.   

After completing my modern apprenticeship with AECOM and my HNC in Electrical Engineering with Forth Valley College, I was offered the opportunity to continue learning at Heriot-Watt as a graduate apprentice. During this time with AECOM, I was an apprentice E&P (electrification and plant) design technician, working on large multi-disciplinary designs and providing a safe, compliant solution to the client, Network Rail.  

What were the benefits of the graduate apprenticeship programme that attracted you the most?

The graduate apprenticeship offered several benefits, including the ability to continue learning to honours level while gaining on the job experience. The GA programme offered a professional level of learning and access to a number of facilities to gain the maximum benefit possible for students. In addition, the programme offered flexibility and funding, providing students with a sense of importance. 

Please describe what you are employed to do and how you have coped with the challenges of learning new skills whilst studying towards a degree.

I am currently employed as an electrification and plant project engineer for Network Rail, responsible for leading and managing the engineering output from a project, design and construction perspective.

Learning on the job while holding a large amount of responsibility had a lot of challenges, with having limited time being the main challenge. This was difficult from start to finish, but certainly worth it. I have coped by using the support offered from my employers and from Heriot-Watt to my advantage, feeling listened to and respected when times were stressful. 

What is your proudest achievement to date in your role and can you explain how this impacted on your working environment and or helped deliver results on behalf of your organisation?

My proudest achievement to date in my role is attending the emergency Whitecross flooding and playing an important role in the turnaround of the infrastructure quickly, to retain the train service. Over 1km of track, drainage, ballast, overhead lines and signalling distribution equipment required replaced urgently while maintaining compliance, sustainability, and safety. I was responsible for managing the front-line E&P teams to achieve this and liaise with the other disciplines and assist in technical support where required. This minimised the disruption to the passenger service and provided a great benefit to the organisation.

What are your future career hopes and goals on completion of the graduate apprenticeship? 

I am currently in the process of submitting my application for incorporated engineer status with the Institute of Engineering and Technology, with positive feedback and confidence of achieving this. As a mid-term goal, I would like to achieve chartered status. If I had gone the traditional route, I would not have the hands-on experience to obtain Incorporated so soon. 

Can you outline what support and/or encouragement your employer has given you in your GA journey?

My employers have recognised the difficulties and challenges that would be encountered but have accepted the benefits this brings to the individual and value to the organisations. This has ensured that all my employers have provided a great level of support and encouragement throughout the programme. 
How would you sum up your GA experience so far?
Overall, this has been a challenging, but amazing experience which has provided me with both long- and short-term benefits. 

Graham Little, workplace mentor at Network Rail

Can you provide some background to the company?

Scotland's Railway, the rail network in Scotland, is an integral part of Scotland's social and economic infrastructure supporting our communities, business and environment providing employment for 13,000 people.

Scotland's Railway covers a large geographical area from the Borders to Thurso at the far tip of the North East of Scotland, accounting for almost 20 per cent of the GB rail network.

It provides rapid access along busy commuter routes to our seven cities, servicing the varied needs of our business and leisure commuter services, including cross border services and rural services.

Why did the company decide to go down the graduate apprenticeship route?

By employing a graduate apprentice, it allows us to have early engagement and helps build the team we need to meet our business objectives. graduate apprentice schemes forms part of our internal learning and development approach to early engagement.

What are the key reasons why the graduate apprenticeship model suits your specific industry? 

The graduate apprenticeship has many benefits towards the business. Network Rail has a large focus on the development of individuals to help Scotland's Railway evolve and grow, providing passengers with a great experience. Providing the apprentices with the greatest experience and training, with the ability to work flexibly and all over the country made the graduate apprenticeship and excellent choice. 

What appealed to you most about Heriot-Watt University as the GA provider?

Scotland's Railway has employed hundreds of graduates across the UK from various universities, with Heriot-Watt being no stranger. The high calibre of students that are developed and educated from Heriot-Watt have always been polished and professional. In addition, the University offers a high level of flexibility to our graduate apprentices, ensuring the apprentice can cope with the high workloads. 

In what way has the candidate made a contribution to the business?

Jamie has been able to demonstrate how to adopt professional attitudes in all aspects of work that he has been involved with. Jamie continually strives for excellence and encourages the team to adopt a continual improvement attitude. Our department has been able to adopt some of Jamie's ideas to real benefit to not only us but also all stakeholders by improving methodologies and providing technical support where required. Jamie has also been influential in cross-discipline working, providing electrical engineering support when required.

How do you feel about the apprentice's future?  

With the level of enthusiasm for the discipline coupled together with an excellent understanding of the engineering requirements, Jamie has a bright future ahead of him. He has already been engaged with by our technical authority to help write an update to a standard that will help in the delivery of our works. Within Scotland's Railway, there will be excellent opportunities ahead for such a capable and hard-working individual.

Based on your experience of the GA programme would you happily employ another graduate apprentice in the future? 

I would happily employ another graduate apprentice. Going through this scheme has allowed Jamie to gain valuable work life experiences whilst also developing his engineering knowledge. Jamie has demonstrated he has also learned valuable time management skills which allow him to work in an efficient manner.