At First Bus we are helping to futureproof the industry with a diverse apprenticeship programme

Maddi Simmons joined First Bus’s engineering programme after her daily bus commute to and from college sparked an interest in the sector

From the granite streets of Aberdeen right down to the Cornish coast, First Bus is proud to be one of the UK’s largest bus operators, carrying over a million customers a day up and down the country. Serving two-thirds of the UK’s 15 largest conurbations, including Glasgow, Bristol and Leeds, we understand the pivotal role we play in our local communities.

As such, we want to make sure that our colleagues – the backbone of our business – truly reflect the communities we serve. One way to address this is through our apprenticeship programmes – a hugely important platform for us to attract and build a more diverse team.

A more gender-balanced industry

It’s no secret that the transport industry is male dominated, with just 20% of the workforce being women. Beyond this, just 16.5% of engineers in the UK are female. These are disappointingly low figures and ones that we’re taking active steps to help address within our own business.

Apprenticeships can be a powerful way of creating routes into the industry for female talent. One of our apprentices, Maddi Simmons, joined our engineering programme after her daily bus commute to and from college sparked an interest in the sector.

Commenting on her journey to becoming a fully qualified bus engineer, Maddi said: “As a young woman, I was really nervous to begin my apprenticeship as I didn’t know what to expect. However, First Bus has ensured that it’s a really inclusive and welcoming environment and it felt like everyone was on a level playing field from the offset.”

Steering the future of bus travel

Apprentices like Maddi also have the opportunity to be at the forefront of change and help steer the future of bus travel. On the topic of future technologies, Maddi said: “Working with buses is a really interesting place to be right now, and the technology is constantly evolving. For example, First Bus now has a huge fleet of electric, hydrogen and hybrid buses as part of its decarbonisation strategy. It’s exciting to think that the other apprentices and I are helping one of the country’s biggest operators become a leader in low-carbon transport!

“Naturally, the new technology means that our roles as engineers and the skills we need to have will keep changing. However, First Bus is helping us with this by ensuring that we are multi-skilled. We aren’t funnelled into a specific type of engineering like mechanical or electrical, meaning that we are more well-rounded and can cover more bases.”

First Bus has ensured that it’s a really inclusive and welcoming environment and it felt like everyone was on a level playing field from the offset

This future-focused lens is at the heart of our programmes, as is continuous learning. We want to create opportunities for our people to learn new skills, expand their knowledge, and advance their careers within First Bus.

Long-term careers for young people

Alongside our engineering apprenticeship, we’ve recently teamed up with a leading transport training provider, Realise, to launch our first ever apprenticeship for bus drivers.

The inaugural cohort of 13 apprentice drivers have already begun their training at our Chelmsford, Bradford, Halifax and Huddersfield depots, and we are excited to see the results of this pilot with a view to expanding the programme further in the future.

Apprentices will complete the Bus Driver Level 2 Passenger Transport Apprenticeship over a 13-month period, with a mix of practical bus driving training, customer service training and functional skills in English and Maths.

The launch of this apprenticeship is a significant milestone for First Bus, as we strive to be more representative of the communities we serve and encourage more young people to build long-term careers in the sector.

Empowering role fluidity for all

While apprenticeships can provide a valuable springboard for young people, and have long been associated with this demographic, they can also be a great option for people of all ages looking to try something new.

This is the case for one of our engineering apprentices, Thang Tang, who started his career with First Bus in 2005 as a bus driver. In 2022, he made the decision to pivot his career path and become an engineer at the age of 45. Tang’s experience so far has proven that one is never too old to embrace a new challenge, having received a special award at the 2023 IRTE Skills Challenge.

As we continue to develop our apprenticeship offering in the future, fostering an inclusive and diverse workforce will be our North Star. We know that diversity is needed to achieve an impactful apprenticeship programme, so offering a diverse range of roles and learning opportunities is key. However, it’s also important to remember that apprenticeships can be a critical tool for driving diversity in the transport industry as a whole.

This story appears inside the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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