Rob Mullen, chairman of Young Rail Professionals, calls on the rail industry to do more to promote itself to young people as an attractive career option

The rail industry must do more to show young people the career opportunities that it can offer. That was the message delivered by Rob Mullen, chairman of the Young Rail Professionals, at the iRail business breakfast in Derby last month.

Mullen himself is now a senior driver manager for London-to-Essex train operator c2c. He is very happy in this role but he admits that he stumbled into it, and the rail industry, by chance.

When he was growing up a railway career never occurred to him. Why? “We don’t let people know that it’s an option,” he said, “We aren’t exactly high profile at careers events.”

Mullen said that he entered the rail industry simply because a role as a railway operations analyst at a consultancy was the first graduate job that came up after he left university – it was a role that he was not equipped for. He believes he was lucky that c2c put faith in him and gave him his first frontline operational job – a role that he believes suits his range of skills and “doesn’t feel like work”.

He urged the rail industry to do more to reach out to young people and offer them career paths. “I was lucky!” he said. “Talent identification is hit and miss. Tradition holds us back in many ways because it’s either the ‘safe’ way of doing things or ‘people feel begrudged’ about the way they got to their role. Increasingly young people live in a culture of ‘immediacy’, they want it now. That doesn’t mean they should have it, but through effective mentoring and exposure, youthful exuberance can be tailored into producing real change.

“Isambard Kingdom Brunel was appointed to engineer the Great Western at the age of 29!”

Mullen also said that the industry’s public image deters young people. “The railway is always in the press for being incompetent, greedy or dangerous,” he said. “Not enough on exciting new rolling stock, HS1, St Pancras, Crossrail. With that background picture it’s probably better to be an accountant or an estate agent! We need to get the story right. Focus on the possibilities not the limitations.”

He added: “If you are perceived to have an interest in the railway, you are perceived to be a ‘spotter’. How do we overcome that?”

Mullen attempted to answer his own question. “We have to sell ourselves better as an industry and as a package. Our trains hold more passengers than a jumbo jet, we can travel at twice the speed of a British motorway. We can change power supplies mid-journey, we use WiFi, regen braking. We cross European boundaries, run individual units for 22 of 24 hours of each day whilst dealing with a mix of signalling systems. Now these things don’t happen without serious hard work, but ask anyone outside and they will ask you about the ‘wrong type of snow’.

He concluded: “I am now a proud railwayman. I hope that together as a wider industry we can get better at showing new generations of young people the ingenuity, security, camaraderie and history of this world changing industry