Discover the different career paths on offer – Track, Signalling, Electrification and Plant, Overhead Lines and Telecoms.
They're all critical to the running of our network and will give you a career that lasts much longer than your three years on the scheme.
Here, some of our apprentices talk about their experiences of the scheme, from the training to living away from home.
"I applied for the Network Rail scheme because it's a great opportunity to gain valuable qualifications and train at the same time, knowing that I will be moving towards a great, prosperous career.
"I was always interested in engineering and wanted to continue to gain more qualifications but didn't want to go to university. I wanted to learn and get paid at the same time and an apprenticeship offered just this. Network Rail was my chance to get involved and move forward in my career.
"I was attracted by the opportunities and challenges that Network Rail offers, which range from BTEC units to a chartered engineering degree, which is my personal goal. And the company benefits are unquestionably worthwhile too.
"Currently based at a depot, I have been involved in ballast regulating, sleeper changing, rail replacement, lifting and packing and also rail adjustment. All these tasks are covered by the permanent way (track) department. Carrying out such tasks gives me great work experience, whilst developing the skills required to become an engineer.
"Here at the depot, I'm enjoying being part of Network Rail more than ever. I've learnt so much in the short period of time that I've been with the company, from theoretical (NVQ and BTEC) and practical knowledge to learning how to develop teams."
Arran is an assistant track maintenance engineer based in Preston, supporting the track maintenance engineer to manage 130 staff across the technical team and surveying design inspectors. He chose Network Rail as he wanted to pursue an apprenticeship that stood out from the rest with the potential to progress as much as possible in his career.
He shocked his parents by choosing an apprenticeship as he’s academically capable (A* student) and so deciding not to go to university was a surprise to them – he’s passionate about reversing this opinion of apprenticeships as it’s the best decision he feels he’s ever made.
As a section manager, Arran was part of a team who met targets early to reduce delays on the Glasgow to London route when speed restrictions were holding up passenger journeys, he also played a huge part when an embankment collapsed at Adlington station. He stayed on site for 20 straight hours with a team of 20 people to reopen the route, which is a crucial line for commuters heading into Manchester’s Victoria station.
Arran has been really pleased with the level of training provided by Network Rail. Two courses that stand out for him include a Safety Leadership Course and a Management Course which taught him streamlined processes, based on the Toyota management model.
His highlights working for Network Rail include being selected as a STEM Ambassador – Arran speaks to students at local technical colleges and assists aspiring engineering professionals – and having presented to Network Rail’s Exec.
Arran said about Network Rail’s Apprenticeship Programme, “Apprentices are a force to be reckoned with. While some people may be held back with a lack of opportunity in the workplace, Network Rail is the total opposite – its apprenticeship programme is a serious route into employment where you can progress and choose your own path.”
"I was part of the first group to be dedicated to overhead line engineering.
"A typical working day involved walking trackside, inspecting the overhead equipment from the ground. These patrols often covered quite a few miles, so it helped to keep me in shape. But to be honest, you can't really do much more than patrol during the day, so the time we got most done was at night. That's when we would isolate the supply earth and get up among all the equipment to see if anything needed attention. It's great in the summer, not so great in the winter. But we just got on with it in most weathers, because it's a job that has to be done.
"The Network Rail apprenticeship is exactly what I expected it to be – hard work, challenging and lots of fun."
Eleanor is in her final year as a signalling apprentice working on the Wessex route. She attended an all-girls school that was keen to encourage her to attend university but, unable to decide on a subject she wanted to study, and feeling as if she was picking a life path for the sake of it, she started looking at alternatives for her next step after A-levels.
As a volunteer for Heritage Railways for the last eight years (since she was six years old), helping with track work and other jobs for the charity, she was able to take a hobby she loved doing and make the logical decision to pursue a career on the railway.
Signalling as a career path was particularly appealing as she gets to learn about the history of the railway, tapping into her experience with Heritage Railways, and she feels there are so many opportunities to learn about varied practices at the organisation.
Eleanor is really enjoying her time studying on the Advanced Apprenticeship Scheme, particularly learning from Network Rail employees who do the job day in, day out. She is working hard to achieve her Institute of Leadership and Management qualification and gaining lots of skills and experience for continuous development.
Emma became an apprentice in 2009 and her current role in the company is a national aerial survey specialist (Air Operations)
Emma is not based anywhere in particular as she works wherever the helicopters need to go! She is responsible for making sure that the helicopters are being put to good use and are operating efficiently and effectively.
The role requires her to operate hi-tech camera equipment on the two Network Rail helicopters. She can use the thermal camera to identify hot spots, which can indicate problems, and to review hi-res images to examine details as little as nuts and bolts. As an aerial survey specialist she has to stand on her own two feet and make on-the-spot decisions as it’s just herself and a pilot in the helicopter.
Having always had a keen interest in aviation and engineering, Emma heard about the Network Rail apprenticeship programme through a friend and was keen to apply to realise her dream career. She feels that the apprenticeship has really ‘built her up as a person’, and the huge variety of day-to-day roles means she enjoys living out of a suitcase for the most part
Emma recommends apprenticeships as a way into securing a job as it’s a great way to learn all skills and knowledge that can be practically applied in your career.
"I recently completed my apprenticeship, studying Electrification and Plant. During my time on the Scheme we stayed full time in Gosport during the first year, which I enjoyed and where I felt I gained much experience and learnt many life skills (although at times it was difficult living away from home).
"I have made many lifelong friends, and it was an experience meeting people from all walks of life. In the first year I gained a distinction overall in BTEC National Diploma, and NVQ level 2, and gained ILM level 2. Also during the first year I had the opportunity to meet the Princess Royal at HMS Sultan.
"For the second and third years I was full time at my depot and I shared my time between Overhead Line and Plant. Working on shift with the team was the best experience, being hands-on as opposed to doing a lot of theory work, as we did in the first year. I found a lot of the first-year electrical work very useful at the depot, as it gave me a basic understanding of how the overheads operate. I also had to write out 25 work-based learning objectives, which were detailed assignments on different subjects within the different fields, ranging from Overhead Line, to Plant, to Track etc. Finally, in the third year I was given nine NVQ assignments to include detailed accounts and evidence of the practical work I had been carrying out, ending in a practical exam on track with the NVQ assessor.
"Overall I think the apprenticeship is a great opportunity. A great amount is invested in you and you gain so many qualifications and life skills. I would strongly recommend the Network Rail Apprenticeship to anyone of any age and would encourage them to apply as soon as possible."
"I was working as a lifeguard and needed a fresh challenge. Little did I realise just what this meant when I was accepted onto the Network Rail Advanced Apprenticeship Scheme. On a personal note, I have made friendships that will last forever and I've been given opportunities I could never have dreamed of, from running a marathon to scuba diving in Malta. Living away from home during the first year was hard at times but well worth it.
"I am more independent and it has provided me with the challenge I needed. More importantly I am at the beginning of a fantastic new career.
"Telecommunications was the career path I followed during my time on the scheme. Telecoms is at the forefront of future technology and Network Rail is currently changing over from analogue to a complete digital communications system. It is a really important area of work – for example, we provide the communications systems for the railway that enable communication between signal boxes and also with the phones at level crossings, which are vital in an emergency. I worked with a great team who have helped and supported me throughout and being the only female at my depot was never an issue.
"I am so glad I saw the advert for the scheme and just went for it!"
Omar is based at London Bridge station and is proud of his contribution to the transformation of London’s oldest rail terminus; he has been working on the redevelopment of the platforms and concourse ensuring they are fit for the future.
After studying for a degree in Aerospace Engineering at university and graduating with a 2:1 he struggled to find a job and wanted to get on the career ladder. He decided to apply for the Network Rail apprenticeship scheme and was accepted onto the scheme aged 22.
He feels that as a Network Rail Apprentice you are treated as a real employee. There is a real sense of community within the company. Working on something that is so important for the country – the transport system – is something that you can be really proud of.
A highlight to date was being given the opportunity to represent Network Rail at the ‘Engineer Your Future’ exhibition at which he met Prince Charles! If he had known about the scheme when he was at school Omar said he would have applied for it straight away and not gone to university. He feels it is the perfect mix of practical and academic work and is looking forward to a long career ahead.
"Since leaving the apprenticeship in 2009, I took the decision to follow a technical signalling route within the company. I have been given various opportunities within signal engineering and have eventually ended up where I want to be as the signals and telecoms maintenance engineer.
"The signals and telecoms maintenance engineer role means I manage the signalling department for the Bedford delivery unit. To enable me to do my job correctly I have a team of 58 who work for the department ranging from operatives to signal section managers and principal technical engineers and a budget of roughly £4m. It is my job to ensure that all of the team are working safely and providing the safest possible signalling system. At the same time as ensuring a safety culture exists I have to make sure we are working compliantly to the correct standards and that the quality of our work is to the highest level.
"If our compliance is managed correctly then we can leave work knowing our signalling system is safe. Along with this is the efficiency of the department; such as managing the amount of failures we have and why, it is also about managing financial efficiency to ensure we are using our budget wisely. My job ranges from incredibly technical situations where I am tested, to meetings with train operating companies and directors; it's a role I'm incredibly grateful to have.
"The apprenticeship is ultimately the reason I decided to take this route. I joined with some reservations about what job I would finish with, but throughout my time on the course I gained a clear understanding of what my final goal was. There were also some concerns about moving away but this proved to be a great decision and was a lot less daunting than I imagined. The time spent on the apprenticeship taught me a lot of new engineering techniques and also helped me revive other academic skills from school that are now very useful for what I do.
"Joining the scheme was one of the biggest decisions I've had to make although now I look back it should have been one of the easiest."
About the scheme
Our three-year scheme includes a residential stay at Westwood, our national training centre in the Midlands, and more than two years' hands-on experience at a local depot.