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Young people urged to consider careers in light rail engineering

Opportunities for a rewarding career in engineering within the UK’s expanding light rail sector are being put under the spotlight this week.

UKTram, the sector’s representative organisation, says that young people in particular have the chance to play a major role in helping the country to meet its future transport and environmental challenges.

Craig O’Brien, UKTram Engineering Manager, explained: “It is widely accepted that there is currently an engineering ‘skills gap’, and this has been felt across many industries, including light rail.

“Recently the government announced a £650 billion ‘pipeline’ of investment in infrastructure and, at the same time, more of our towns and cities are recognising the economic, social and environmental benefits tramways and similar mass transit systems can bring.

“While UKTram is committed to promoting those benefits, we also see this as a chance to create an enduring legacy of opportunity and skills for the next generation of transport workers.

“While some young people may not have yet heard about light rail, or even travelled on a tram, it really is a very diverse and rewarding sector to be a part of. Despite being relatively small in comparison to traditional or heavy rail, many people are surprised at just how many career paths it offers, particularly for those with an interest in engineering-based roles.

“These can include contributing to the maintenance of rolling stock or infrastructure such as track, overhead lines and bridges. There are also opportunities in project administration, health and safety and a host of specialist areas that can lead to senior management roles.”

Speaking ahead of the Royal Academy of Engineering’s ‘This is Engineering Day’ this week (Wednesday, November 3), Craig said his own career path reflects the opportunities for career progression within light rail.

“My own journey started over 14 years ago as a then 31-year-old trainee within Stagecoach Supertram’s maintenance team in Sheffield,” he said. “I had no background in engineering at all, but through a bit of happenstance and right timing I was given the opportunity to start as an apprentice surveyor. Within five years I had progressed to Infrastructure Manager.

“I am no special case, and I firmly believe with the right support, training and above all attitude, anyone can see their career follow a similar trajectory.

“Like many of my colleagues will testify to, this is an industry that really gets under your skin. I’ve encountered so many great people in the sector, with a real passion for light rail.

“You really feel a part of something bigger, and I see this every day in my current role as Engineering Manager for UKTram and the Light Rail Safety and Standards Board.

“Light Rail has been built on the fantastic work by some incredible individuals, but, as they get older, we need to introduce some new blood that can bring fresh enthusiasm and ideas to drive the sector forward.

“While we are targeting schools, colleges and universities to generate interest in light careers among young people, we are also aware that it is never too late for a change of direction – as my own experience illustrates!

“We all have a role to play in encouraging the next generation of light rail ‘rising stars’, and UKTram plans to play its part through a range of exciting initiatives.”

Over the coming months, UKTram is planning a series of career ‘roadshows’ in schools, colleges and universities while a landmark project to set National Occupational Standards for occupations in light rail is well advanced.

Opportunities are also being promoted on the UKTram website and its social media channels, and a comprehensive light rail career ‘roadmap’ is also in development.

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