"The biggest challenge for future railway engineers will be to convince the government and the general public that big projects such as HS2 are crucial in maintaining economic and social expansion."
Vivek Vilay: Project Management Assistant, Network Rail
Vivek is working as a project management assistant on a 6 month contract with Network Rail. Whilst at school Vivek enjoyed sciences and had a particular interest in aerospace engineering. This was coupled with Vivek’s early ambitions to become a pilot. Unfortunately, due to his eyesight, Vivek had to discard his plans of becoming a pilot; but as one door closes another one opens and this gave Vivek the chance to pursue a career as an engineer.
Vivek applied to three different engineering courses. Initially he was sticking with aerospace by applying to training schemes run by various airlines, but he also discovered that Network Rail were sponsoring trainees through a foundation degree in Railway Engineering at Sheffield Hallam University. ‘I decided to apply on the off chance that I might get an interview. That alone would have been a good experience. It seemed very unlikely at the time.’ It was during the differing application processes that Vivek decided Network Rail would be the right choice for him. Network Rail maintained constant contact and invited Vivek to an interview in which the experience encouraged him that the qualifications Network Rail would help him gain would make him very employable in a sector that needed new engineers. As well as having to perform during the interview process, Vivek needed 160 UCAS points to gain a place on the course.
At the beginning of his degree, Vivek was given a good induction to the course which helped him settle in very quickly. He took particularly well to maths, which was being taught at a good level and was in line with what he had learnt during his BTEC. The course was tailored towards those who were studying part time so the learning occurred in short bursts rather than consistently over a prolonged period of time. For example, 3 weeks intense learning, followed by 3 weeks of more relaxed study. Vivek was able to complete two 5 month periods of work experience over the two year period with Network Rail.
Vivek graduated in November 2010. At a time when jobs were very hard to come by, and applying to roles was often a very long process, Network Rail extended Vivek’s second period of work experience to allow for this. ‘Network Rail were very helpful in supporting me until I found employment.’ Soon enough, Vivek found himself the role that he is in now as a Project Management Assistant for the design and instalment of new safety systems for Network Rail including a new type of rail inspection vehicle. This new role has required Vivek to step out of his comfort zone. His previous roles during his work experience undertaking track renewals were very practical whereas this role is far more technical. After a few months on the job, Vivek has decided that he would like to use the technical experience he has gained to aide him in a more practical role in the future. ‘Hopefully in 10 years’ time I’ll have the practical experience and technical knowledge to manage projects myself.’ Furthermore Vivek is considering a part time course in Railway Engineering BEng to enable him to climb the ladder faster.
When looking towards the future of the UK rail industry, Vivek believes that the ‘biggest challenge will be to convince the government and the general public that big projects such as High Speed 2 are crucial in maintaining economic and social expansion.’ Not only this ‘but there needs to be more consistency across the network. High Speed 2 needs to stretch as far North as possible into Scotland and we need to remove bottlenecks to enable a smoother, more frequent timetable.’
Vivek would like to advise young people entering the industry that practical training is important. ‘I would have preferred to have more practical training at university but most of it comes though work experience so get stuck in. There’s only so much you can learn from a whiteboard.’ Vivek believes that to be successful in the railway industry you need to have good inter- personal skills and be open to new ideas. ‘Don’t shy away.’