Laura Oliver

"Working in the railway industry is very exciting and rewarding. There are plenty of opportunities for progression and it can take you anywhere in the world."

Laura Oliver: Senior Technical Officer, Network Rail

Like many young people, Laura wasn’t sure what career path she wanted to follow, until she stumbled upon an advert for an apprenticeship as a Diesel fitter with a major train operating company. It seemed like the perfect route for Laura, who had always been a hands-on learner, leaving school with A Levels in Design & Technology, Art and Geography and knew that university wasn’t for her at this stage. Furthermore the idea of learning and earning money at the same time was very appealing.

The apprenticeship required 5 GCSE’s (A-C) and Laura also had to attend an interview. The application process was very interactive, which suited Laura who had always preferred coursework to exams whilst at school. For example she was shown expanded images of a car engine and a train and asked to name different components.

Before starting her apprenticeship, Laura was naturally quite nervous about her first proper job and was also slightly anxious about entering into what is, at this moment in time, a male dominated industry. However her main feeling was one of great excitement. When asked if she could describe a typical day on the apprenticeship scheme her response was ‘there is no typical day. Every day is different which is what made an apprenticeship so interesting. Some days would be spent at college learning the technical aspects of the course whilst other days you would be called out onto the station or completing other hands-on tasks.’ Laura would strongly recommend an apprenticeship scheme if you are the type of person who isn’t suited to exams but you still enjoy learning. The unstructured routine is completely different to school. ‘I never felt like I didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning.’

Throughout her apprenticeship Laura remained open-minded about what she wanted to do afterwards. She wasn’t guaranteed a job but due to the small number of apprentices, (6 in total) she could have quite easily found a job with the TOC and indeed all of her fellow apprentices are still with the company. Yet Laura decided to go to Network Rail who offered a much broader career choice and were willing to sponsor her through a foundation degree in Railway Engineering at Sheffield Hallam University. Laura knew she wanted to continue learning and this opportunity with Network Rail seemed too good to be true. The course involved a 6 month work placement in which accommodation and wages were paid for by Network Rail. University was a totally different experience for Laura. She graduated in March 2010 and as much as she enjoyed it, she missed the camaraderie and team spirit of an apprenticeship.

Laura now works for Network Rail as a Senior Technical Officer and is continuing her studies at Sheffield Hallam for a BEng in Railway Engineering. She enjoys meeting new people all the time and loves being out on the track. She can take great satisfaction in the fact that her role is helping to keep the country running smoothly and the greater the challenge, the greater the sense of accomplishment she feels after a hard shift. Since becoming an engineer Laura has discovered that she carries engineering in her blood. Her grandparents were marine engineers and her Great Uncle was an engineer on the Flying Scotsman. ‘It’s a comforting thought to know that I’m not the first person in my family to become an engineer.’ Laura believes that her time as an apprentice has given her a head start over other young people because she is financially stable and has proof that she is a good employee. She believes that if you are planning to enter the railway industry as an apprentice you need to be motivated enough to self-learn. ‘Working in the railway industry is very exciting and rewarding. There are plenty of opportunities for progression and it can take you anywhere in the world.’