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GTR graduates Paige Lunn, Lisa Gibbs and Beau Hawkins decided to follow their dreams of becoming train drivers and are now all looking forward to starting the next journey in their careers.

Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), the UK’s biggest rail operator which runs the Southern, Thameslink, Great Northern and Gatwick Express services, has, through a series of dedicated recruitment and marketing campaigns over a six month period, successfully managed to double the number of female train driver applicants from 413 in the whole of 2019, to 825 in 2020. A remarkable feat for an industry usually seen as dark, dusty and better suited to men.

Paige, Beau and Lisa had been excited by the prospect of a career change enough to retrain and get on board to do something a little different. For Lisa, 56-year old Southern train driver, the campaign re-ignited a long-held dream of 20+ years:

“My career has come full circle. I first applied to be a train driver when I was just 21, but back then it was all paper-based and quite technical, so I completely doubted my ability and walked straight back out of the assessment centre. I was 49 when I changed careers. Some people might think that’s ridiculous, but I’m used to moving about and if I want something  I go and get it!”

After working as a platform assistant for six months, Lisa was keen for the next step and moved up the ranks to becoming a train conductor, something she did for two and a half years. “I was approached about going down the supervisor or management route, but that’s not what I wanted to do. I knew at that moment that my next move would be to train as a driver. “I’ve been driving on my own now for about a year and I absolutely love it. I cover London Victoria to Selhurst and I still have about five routes to learn. “I’m glad things didn’t work out when I was 21 as I feel a lot more prepared to be a driver at this stage in my life. I joined the railway before turning 50 so I’d encourage others not to be bound by age. The railway is open to everyone young or old!”

Diverse talent pool

It’s no secret that a diverse talent pool makes a happy, motivated and successful workforce, as well as giving businesses the best opportunity to recruit the most skilled and capable people for the role; not based on gender, but on ability. And whilst historically the rail industry has struggled to attract female talent, the tide may be turning. For Paige, working on the railway runs in the family so maybe wasn’t such a radical choice, but nonetheless, it was still an unusual one:

“Before I joined the railway I mainly worked in retail; at the time of my application I was actually working at Madame Tussauds which was fun, but I needed something different. I’d seen various campaigns calling on women to sign up and become train drivers, so I thought – why not! My dad was a driver and my grandad was also in the industry, so the railway is in my blood.”

Paige, 29, worked for London Underground for a short while, which helped her take the first steps in railway – but driving was the ultimate goal.

“For me, I quite like the fact that I’m my own boss. Yes, I have a manager and a team to check in with but most of the time you are managing yourself. I have a responsibility every day to get people from A to B and in that respect, I like that I’m making a difference.

“This will be the first winter where I’ll be driving completely on my own. It’s a bit scary as there’s a lot more to take into consideration – especially wet leaves which are a nightmare for drivers!

Being up front in the driver’s cab is a real privilege. Some mornings are very special, when it’s a bit misty and the world seems a little bit more magical. Or when you get to witness a stunning sunrise – it makes you stop and appreciate nature.

“I was in my mid-twenties when I applied to be a driver. It’s something you can go into at any point in your life and I’d recommend it to anyone, it’s a fantastic industry to be a part of. I haven’t been treated any differently just because I’m a woman – I was the only female in my training class but that didn’t bother me. I’d love more women to join us, so what are you waiting for?”

Beau too enjoys the magic of nature and having been driving solo since December 2019, her favourite time is sunset when everything becomes bathed in a golden light. For someone who applied to become a driver on a whim, it seems as if she has no regrets:

“For females young or old that are reading this, I would highly recommend a career as a train driver. You can apply when you’re 20, but you can’t qualify until you reach 21. For those leaving school or college – consider joining the railway family. It’s a great place to be!”

Like Lisa, Beau had previously had brief spells working in both office and retail environments and joined Great Northern seven and a half years ago working in a number of roles across stations before deciding to train as a driver. Her positive approach to being willing to give everything a try has resulted in her career now heading in a new direction.

Value of recruitment campaigns

Speaking of the company’s progress, Zoey Hudson, Head of Talent, Diversity and Inclusion at GTR said, “We’re very aware at GTR that to get the best from our staff and be best able to serve our passengers, a diverse and highly skilled workforce is absolutely vital. For this reason, we’ve invested heavily in a recruitment campaigns packed full of programmes and initiatives, such as working with Mumsnet. Our campaigns are aimed at debunking the stereotypes associated with careers in the rail industry and humanising our brands while demonstrating the huge versatility of roles available. All with the intention of attracting a more diverse workforce to the industry.”

Zoey continues, “We’re truly delighted to have been able to double the number of female train driver applicants in a single year, and we look forward to continuing to be the driving force behind the rail industry’s mission to recruit more women and have a more diverse pool of talent.”

Whilst the progress made is encouraging, GTR recognises that the fight is far from over, and has once again committed to doubling the number of female train driver applicants, this time by 2021. Further commitments include improving diversity in teams across its entire talent pool, with the company setting itself the target of having a 50/50 gender split on all training programmes by the end of 2021.

To ensure this ethos is embraced across GTR, the company also introduced ‘Unconscious Bias’ training, designed specifically to help make the organisation a more diverse and inclusive place to work. Ian McLaren, CFO at GTR commented, “As the executive sponsor of our Unconscious Bias training programme, it is my responsibility to ensure GTR is the diverse and welcoming business that we strive for it to be. We all have biases, it’s how our brains process and categorise the world. But by making ourselves aware of our tendencies to favour people most like us in appearance, background, or world view, we can begin to overcome those biases to create a more agile and innovative blend of ideas and experiences at GTR.”

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