Independent Graduate: Keeping the Tube on track hooks recruits

Surprisingly, perhaps, 1,500 graduates chased 30 jobs at London Transport. By Kate Hilpern
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Indy Lifestyle Online
One million people travel into London each weekday morning and well over half of them use the Tube. Within two years, the constant attempts to make this a smooth operation will be undertaken by a new strategic authority - Transport for London - the successor to London Transport. For the general public, this means the arrival a public sector operating company with private sector infrastructure partners. For graduates, it means the arrival of more career opportunities.

"Because we are such an integral and long-standing part of London life, people often forget that we are run much like any other commercial business," explains Claire Bowler of the graduate recruitment team. "We must constantly anticipate the needs of the market, providing the services people want within the political and financial frameworks in which we operate. We can never stand still."

Diversity is the key attraction to graduates, believes Bowler - diversity of people, diversity of working environments and diversity of the jobs themselves. Mind you - as you can tell from glancing inside any tube station office or observing workers on the lines - it seems that it pays to be male. "The gender balance is changing, though," insists Bowler who points to the fact that whether you're male or female, a background in engineering can lead you to excellent career opportunities in civil, track, train and line, communications and control, and power engineering. And for non- engineers, there are openings in human resources, finance, commercial, business development, safety and, of course, passenger services.

In fact, as part of their training, most non-engineering graduates complete a placement in passenger services, close to the customers in the front line of operations. For some recruits, this is a demanding, unpredictable and consequently somewhat unwelcome post, but for others - such as Stevyn Walder - the experience is so fulfilling they never leave: "I joined the business development programme in September 1997, where the aim is to play a significant role in projects like the Green Travel Plan which includes targets for reducing the use of cars for employee commuting. But I found myself preferring to take a more hands-on role by controlling a tube station."

Stevyn was first given responsibility for supervising the operation of Green Park station over a period of nine weeks. "Being in charge of a busy, crowded station and ensuring the customers' journey is safe, informed and quick gave me such a buzz. I'm now covering duty station manager for two stations which gives me the opportunity to deal with the myriad of issues behind the scenes.'

Should Stevyn decide to return to a business, marketing or commercial role, however, he knows he can. "In fact, there's the possibility of gaining varied experience, thereby taking full advantage of such a large organisation. For those who like an unchanging lifestyle, this isn't the place to be."

Mark Robinson, an electronics engineer who joined London Transport in 1993 and now manages a business unit delivering train system, professional engineering services with some 130 staff adds: "There is nothing easy about working here, but there is so much opportunity to make a difference if you are prepared to take it. And as the public-private partnership progresses, opportunities can only grow."

Anyone who works for London Transport will agree that no position is a desk job. Lazy weekends are certainly a thing of the past for Michael Edwards, who joined the civil engineering scheme in 1996. "Enthusiasm is vital, which can be difficult when we're working days and nights with a huge amount of responsibility. But if you want a career, not a job - you make sacrifices. And the work is so fulfilling and action-orientated that you inevitably start to love it.'

Last year, 30 graduates were recruited by London Transport from a staggering 1,500 applications, and most are encouraged to gain extra qualifications. Depending on their chosen field, this could range from a postgraduate diploma in management studies to chartered status in the Institute of Electrical Engineers.

Graduate starting salaries in 1998 of pounds 17,586 are under review for 1999. But selection s is tough, with competence in many areas, such as leadership and performance management, team working, business and financial skills, analysis and problem-solving, resilience and self-awareness, expected.

"We demand energy, enthusiasm and a genuine commitment," concludes Claire Bowler. "Above all, you must convince us that you believe in what we're doing and are keen to contribute to our success." As one graduate says, public transport can even be a significant agent for social change. An attractive new station in a run-down area can stimulate redevelopment and growth.