Arriva has extended its graduate management training scheme to existing members of staff in a bid to find the leaders of tomorrow


Arriva_graduatesSome of Arriva’s 2013 graduate induction


Much has been made about the missing generation of transport managers, particularly in the bus sector. The privatisation of the industry in the mid-1980s led to the demise of the highly-regarded management training scheme of the National Bus Company. In the years that followed there was little, if any, development of new managerial talent, and it was only with the emergence of the larger transport groups a decade or so later that any form of management training resumed.

These schemes are now playing a big part in plugging that skills gap, especially as many of the last generation of NBC managers are now starting to retire, a trend that is likely to continue for some years to come. Already a new generation of senior managers are starting to emerge, many of whom are the products of the management training schemes initiated by the major groups, but what does the training involve?

Arriva has run a graduate management training scheme now for some years, not just for its operations in the UK, but elsewhere in Europe too. It’s an 18-month long scheme, with a new intake commencing their training every September. Carl Rayner, head of leadership and management development in the UK, explains that the training scheme is not just one scheme, it is in fact a variety of schemes.

“We do have a general management training scheme, but in recent years we’ve moved to introduce schemes that are also tailored to certain specialisms,” he explains.

This means that rather than graduates being selected for a scheme covering all specialisms, they will select a scheme with a specific career goal at its end. “So with a functional graduate scheme, it may be specific training that leads to a role in marketing, commercial, finance or change leadership,” adds Rayner. “Our graduates on the general scheme also study these specialisms, but, for the functional graduates, it’s about concentrating on what their role will eventually be.”

This year 14 graduate trainees are preparing to join Arriva in the UK over the next few weeks, nine of which will join the bus division. Rayner says that this is the culmination of a year-long process that begins every September. “We target recruits through university routes, such as by working with agencies rather than getting involved with the traditional ‘milk round’ approach to recruitment,” he says. “We also work with specific universities, such as the University of Wales, to target graduates. We know the type of person we’re looking for, so it’s about tracking them down.”

An initial application leads to an interview, conducted either online or by phone. If candidates are successful at this stage they will then be short-listed for an assessment centre. Beyond that there’s a final interview and, if successful, a new career in the transport industry awaits them.

However, more recently the scheme has been expanded to include existing members of staff. It’s a change that has happened for very pragmatic reasons. “Two years ago we were struggling to get engineering graduates to apply for the scheme,” admits Rayner. “We decided to look internally instead. We have some great people in the business, so the logical thing to do was to look and see if we could develop them instead.

“We do absolutely need grads, there’s no denying that, but there’s plenty of talent too that’s already within the group. It’s about taking that talent and developing it to fulfill its potential. This is a route to enable us to achieve that.”

It saw two apprentice engineers selected and put through Arriva’s graduate programme. One of them, 23-year old Josh Rothbard, believes he has benefitted from successfully gaining a place on the scheme. “I stayed at school until I was 18,” he says. “I’d been umming and ahhing about what to do, but at the same time there was the financial crisis. There was a lot of talk about young people leaving university not having a lot of career opportunities. People just weren’t recruiting back then, so that put me off university to some extent. I thought that I’d do my best with my A-levels and think about a career sooner rather than later. I thought that I could always go to university at some other point in the future if the right opportunity arose.”

Instead Rothbard looked at the range of apprenticeships available, eventually gaining a place with Arriva’s engineering apprenticeship scheme in 2010. Based with bus operator Arriva Merseyside, he spent four years on the scheme, but his career path took an unexpected turn on completion of his apprenticeship.

“In early 2014 I was coming to the end of the scheme and I was starting to think about jobs and my career path,” Rothbard says. “At the same time the group was speaking to all the apprentices to see if there was any enthusiasm in joining the graduate scheme. I was very keen; I think that it helped that the apprenticeship had given me experience of the skills I needed to be an engineer, and I also had a pretty good idea about how the company worked. That’s been a real benefit. I think it can be a shock for some graduates to leave the bubble of university and enter the real world of work, but I didn’t experience that because of the background that I had. I knew how what a role in engineering entailed, I knew the processes and I knew how it all worked. That’s really helped me I think.”

Rothbard and Liam Bate, a fellow engineering apprentice from Arriva’s bus operations in the north east, joined the management scheme after going through the same selection process as the graduates. For them the scheme has been structured with 12 months spent with the group’s UK bus division working on a performance improvement project, which has seem Rothbard and Bate working across Arriva’s UK bus division. Meanwhile, they have also received more generalised training that aims to give them experience outside of their existing engineering background.

“It’s been great,” says Rothbard enthusiastically. “As an engineering apprentice you obviously learn all about that side of things, so it means that we’ve spent time in other parts of the business; the commercial side and that sort of thing. Personally, I feel that that has really developed my skills and it’s been really wide-ranging. My skills have really developed, not just in the day-to-day areas of engineering and management, but softer skills like admin and inter-personal skills. That’s given me a lot more confidence too. I think it has helped me develop a lot and in quite a short space of time.”

Rothbard has completed his first 12 months of the scheme and he is now preparing to return to Arriva Merseyside for his final six months of training. So where next? “In the short term I’m keeping an eye on my performance improvement project and the success of it,” he says. “I want to see that it works, but beyond that my options are really open. I like the business improvement aspect of the work that I’ve done, but I’ve also quite enjoyed the more traditional management aspects of the scheme.”

Meanwhile, he’s finally going to university, and will start a management and leadership degree with the University of Northumbria later this year, sponsored by the group. “I’m quite excited about that,” he says. “I’m interested in the subject and the training I’ve had means that I’ve got some practical experience. I think that that will feed into the degree quite well. At the same time I think that it’s really going to help my career.”

Rayner says that the experience of Rothbard and Bate, in other words taking existing staff and putting them through the management training process, has been “a big success” and it does mean that the group is now looking at its options to expand this method of internal development to other staff.

“I would always encourage our people to look at progressing their career,” says Rayner. “It can be a struggle at times, perhaps as that sort of training can be seen as something for external people, but we have to change that thinking. Internally, there’s a big pool of talent and it’s about identifying it, nurturing it and developing it. That will no doubt be a big benefit to the business in the future.”


This article appears inside the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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