Sam Sherwood-Hale spoke to Zoey Hudson, Head of People Development at GTR, about the TOCs new recruitment portal, the Get into Railways’ Scheme and her focus on professional development…

Since 2014, Zoey’s general remit has been focussed on leadership development, talent and succession management. As of July this year she has also been working on recruitment and apprenticeships. Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), which operates Southern, Gatwick Express, Great Northern and Thameslink services, has implemented a recruitment portal, eArcu, to help streamline the hiring process and help successful applicants into roles faster.

Launching with a number of positions across the operator’s four brands, the new site highlights the breadth of positions available across the business, as well as case studies of GTR people working in the roles, offering direct insight.

How does the recruitment portal, eArcu work?

It’s a world away from the previous system GTR was using. The generation of today want the process of applying for jobs to be as easy and as flexible as possible, for example, they need a portal that is compatible with their smart phones. With eArcu, you register as a candidate; set up an account and then receive updates on the types of roles you might be applying for. We’ve tried to consider all the barriers that get put in people’s way. The eArcu site is an externally facing website, so it’s not just for recruitment but also showcases everything we do around diversity and apprenticeships. We’ve received great feedback so far and are in the process of developing the internal elements of the platform which would focus on careers.

What was the reason for developing the portal and what have you found to be the most common issue facing jobseekers? What solutions does this portal offer?

Our recruitment strategy has developed so much recently. There’s nothing more frustrating than jumping hurdles on a website so we now focus on the candidate experience. It’s also about engaging our business, through the site we can connect with line managers, schedule interviews and meetings. We’ve also uploaded assessment materials, essentially building a one stop shop for employees to use.

Tell me about the Women’s Network Group? 

It’s called the Women’s Network Group, but it is not exclusively for women and we have quite a big male presence. The main purpose is to give employees a space to voice their opinions about different processes within GTR. The group gets together regularly and is self-sufficient. We currently have 200 members from across GTR, in engineering roles and in operations. It’s a place to showcase role models as well as to identify new work streams, it is a very action-orientated community. We recently created a women’s factsheet to promote awareness of issues like cervical cancer. The group also presents opportunities for members to take on different roles at GTR.

How can the programme expand?

Our hope is for more groups to form organically so that they can continue to operate in a self-sufficient manner. It would be easy to have a checklist of groups and then have them be formed from the top down for the sake of it, but it’s important to have people who are passionate about these areas to ensure the group is created authentically by people who actually care.

How do you cooperate with schools through the outreach programme?

This is still in the early days, it is something that we are looking to develop and we hope will flourish over the next year. We are looking at different avenues and talent streams, so the programme would involve trying to profile people who apply for GTR. Initially we are focussing on STEM schools as there tends to be quite a large percentage of pupils going into apprenticeships, so we want to encourage people in that space to think about GTR. We are also looking at all-girls schools.

How important are subject choices at school and at the degree/tertiary education level? 

Some professions have clear academic mapping so rail is unique because many of our roles don’t fit that mould. We pride ourselves on getting applicants from a wide range of backgrounds. The engineering apprenticeship requires good English and maths, but all the other skills can be trained. Someone can start as platform staff and then be promoted internally through training.

Girls might not consider rail as an exciting career prospect so we’re doing a lot over the next year to raise awareness. We’re talking about the eight years of study post apprenticeship and highlight the role models I mentioned earlier to appeal to young girls. From the perspective of the younger generation, seeing someone who looks like you is really powerful. We recruit for attitude, our training programme is extensive and we can train up the skills that we require, what we want is people with the right values and attitudes that match the way that GTR operates.

In March GTR launched a recruitment drive, one of the targets was to have 40 per cent of applications for trainee train drivers by 2021 to be from women. What methods are you employing to achieve this? 

On the recruitment side we are focussing our approach on train drivers. We ran a campaign in February and ended up with 14 per cent of applications being from women, this was a four per cent increase but shows there’s still a long way to go. By 2020 we want 50/50 intake on each driver training course. To achieve that we’re changing our methods for attracting applications. Previously we used LinkedIn solely for office positions, now it is good for many different occupations. We also have female-only assessment courses.

What is the ‘Get Into Railways’ Scheme and how does the partnership with The Prince’s Trust work?

This has been an absolute success story throughout the course of this franchise, we invest a lot of resources into the programme. It is a social inclusion programme which takes people from disadvantaged backgrounds and shows them what a career in rail looks like. On the recruitment day we select about 18-20 people to take part, they learn the values and behaviour that GTR expects, we find it builds up the confidence of people who may have been out of work.

In total there have been 182 participants in the programme so far, 70 per cent of them, 164, have secured full time work with GTR. I can think of a specific example, there is this young man named Ben who came through the course, he had been drifting from job to job but after completing the programme he became a platform assistant, worked his way up and was promoted through the company and is now training to be a train driver – he credits his experience of going through the programme as being a key turning point in his life. Part of that career progression comes from a progression mentor from GTR who supports participants through the process of training and then into full time employment and stays with them as their career progresses. I started as a frontline member of staff 23 years ago so I am a living example of someone who has built a career in rail through that progression.

How about women in more senior roles, what sort of professional development challenges do they face?

We’ve come a long way from the days when women would be promoted into senior roles and then being left to plateau without support. We now have a team of qualified coaches that we advise new managers to train with, we probably don’t have enough women in senior roles but the attraction strategies that we are employing are helping to show that this industry isn’t male dominated. We have female board members at GTR now who can now be those role models that I mentioned.

A few issues back our columnist and Women in Rail founder Adeline Ginn wrote about ‘imposter syndrome’ have you encountered this problem in your staff and if so what do you think is the primary cause? 

I think I’ve seen less of this recently, this goes back to putting in place training to build people’s confidence. We have an onboarding programme so as soon as someone starts a new role, they have a clear plan around what we want them to achieve. People are expected to drive their own development instead of training being done to them, regular one-to-ones help people believe in themselves and the role they have. The coaching is confidential which I believe has also helped to make it a success.

More at www.railpro.co.uk