How did you get into the rail industry, was it by accident?
Completely by accident! I graduated from university with a degree in human resource management and I started working as a HR Admin Assistant at Volker Rail. I took this role because of the job itself, I knew that I would have to start in HR in a junior role as I had the qualifications but not the experience, rather than the company. Because of a redundancy programme I left Volker Rail and took a HR Admin position at Wabtec Rail. It was definitely by accident!
Tell us about your career to date
I started at Wabtec as HR Admin on a temporary contract to cover for maternity and I ended up being offered the position as HR admin on a permanent basis. I undertook this role for a period of approximately 1 year and, due to personnel changes, I began to take on additional HR duties building up my knowledge and experience before being officially appointed as HR Manager in 2013 at the age of 26.
You must be really proud of this achievement!
Well… I am but I really don’t like praising myself! I expected to be in an admin role for many years before slowly progressing, I did not expect to be HR Manager for a company employing over 1,000 people at my age! In fact, when the director took me into his office to tell me that he wanted me to take on the role of HR Manager I asked him “are you sure? Don’t you want someone more experienced than me?”. But they were certain that they wanted me!
What does a typical day for you involve?
Stress! Hard work and stress! I love my job I really do but in HR there are so many interruptions on a daily basis that it can be hard to structure and plan your work. I can come to work in the morning with a plan of work to undertake and not complete any of it due to unforeseen events occurring. Wabtec has 10 departments, all of whom come to me on a daily basis with their HR issues for advice. I also undertake pension and insurance administration and I manage our apprenticeship scheme which I really enjoy. I think that if I worked in an HR department in a different company I could be bored! Because of the variety of issues and events that occur at Wabtec I get to be involved in loads of things. I honestly believe that during my 5 years at Wabtec I have dealt with every HR issue possible.
What aspect do you find the most challenging?
Probably the disciplinary and absence management. It’s dealing with everything in the right way, ensuring that the company abides by the law but also trying to work with the business needs. I have to be a counsellor, a friend, a manager. I have to put my feelings and opinions to one side and be impartial. I’ve had older colleagues come to me to tell me about the awful problems they are facing. I sometimes find it difficult as a young woman to be able to offer any advice. I openly say ‘I know I’m young and I’ve never experienced what you are experiencing right now but please, listen to me.” It can be difficult.
What do you like most about your job?
The variety of work I’m involved in. I like the people I work with… it’s such a different range of people I work with that every day is new… no day is the same as the last!
Do you like being in the rail industry?
I sometimes forget I’m in the rail industry! But I can see where the opportunities are. And I would definitely recommend the rail industry. There are such a variety of careers available and so many opportunities available.
What makes you stay in your current role and in the rail industry?
I still feel like I’ve got a lot to give and I’ve still got a lot to learn. I can see that the company is continuing to grow as is the rail industry. I can see the potential of the company by being part of the rail industry. I can see the opportunities available. Rail continued to grow even when other industries were making redundancies and instigating pay freezes.
What do you think we should stop doing?
Wabtec have only recently started looking at the diversity issue. But I do feel that it’s a wider issue – encouraging girls and young women into engineering and engineering industries. I think that Wabtec can play its part here. We have tried to engage with local schools to talk to their students about engineering but only one took us up on our offer, similarly only one local school attended the Big Bang event for Yorkshire which was held in Doncaster. It’s disappointing that schools aren’t willing to engage more. Something must be happening but it’s slow progress. This year we have had the most applicants for our apprenticeships and the first time girls have applied. We made a decision that any girls who applied would automatically be put forward to the open day. And as it happens the two of the three girls who applied have been appointed as apprentices. This is a first for Wabtec and we are really pleased with the result.
What would you say to a young women consider a career in rail.
Go for it… grab any opportunity with both hands! There’s so much potential and opportunity.
Interviewed October 2014