Monday 6th March 2017. Network Rail sets ’20 by 20′ target to increase take-up of female employees and tackle engineer shortfall.(Network Rail)

Network Rail sets '20 by 20' target to increase take-up of female employees and tackle engineer shortfall

Network Rail apprentices in the workshop.(All images courtesy: Network Rail)

  • UK produces 12,000 graduate engineers per year but requires 54,000 – of the 12,000, 20 percent are women
  • Network Rail sets target of increasing female workforce to 20 percent by 2020
  • New engagement programme launched to inspire young women about careers in engineering


Of the 12,000 graduate engineers the UK produces every year, one in five are women. Yet if we are to meet industry needs, the UK requires 54,000 per year or our economy will suffer according to WISE (Women in Science and Engineering). To address this in the short-term, the organisation, which employs 37,000 people across Britain, has set itself a bold target of increasing its take-up of female employees to 20 percent by 2020.

As one of Britain’s biggest employers, Network Rail also recognises that inspiring future generations into engineering is vital to helping fill the skills shortage. Furthermore, WISE research also shows that the majority of teachers (82%) admit they don’t have the appropriate knowledge to advise pupils on their career choices. As a result, the organisation is using National Apprenticeship Week and International Women’s Day to launch a new engagement programme working directly with schools to inspire young women to study STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths).

Commenting, Loraine Martins, Network Rail’s Director of Diversity and Inclusion, said:

Loraine Martins

Loraine Martins

“There is still a wide perception that engineering jobs are for ‘boys only’. Many of the outdated stereotypes about what makes certain career choices male or female continue to be engrained within some children from a really young age, often passed down through parents, families and teachers.

“Our own research has shown that girls as young as seven believe that engineering is not an option for them, which is why we need to do everything we can to educate children, parents and teachers about the vast array of jobs within the sector.  Attracting and retaining a diverse mix of talent is essential not only for our business, but also for the UK economy as a whole.”

Helen Samuels is Network Rail’s Engineering Director. Her role is to lead the 2,000 engineers working in the projects team to deliver a five year, £25 billion investment in new infrastructure.

Helen Samuels

Helen Samuels

Helen added:

“Engineering is basically problem-solving. Sometimes it’s maths, but sometimes it’s helping people to understand what you are doing and why, or figuring out how to build something for less money. Diverse teams are important for this, and having a mixture of skills sets in these problem-solving situations is key.

“One of the most common myths is that engineering is a ‘dirty’ profession. Many engineering roles are based either part-time or full-time in an office environment, although I really enjoy the cut and thrust of site work”.

As well as going into schools, Network Rail is also looking to recruit apprentices to help deliver its Railway Upgrade Plan to make the railway bigger and better for Britain for years to come. The company is calling out for the next generation of engineers who want to learn on the job and build a career in engineering. Network Rail’s apprentices are guaranteed a job on successful completion of the three year course. The retention rate of those coming through the apprenticeship scheme is around 75% – much higher than the national average for engineering (55%).

Emma Taylor, who joined Network Rail as an apprentice, is now a National Aerial Survey Specialist, which means she is responsible for operating the specialist camera equipment which is mounted onto the Network Rail surveillance helicopter.

Emma TaylorNR helicopter

Emma Taylor & NR Helicopter

Emma added:

“I work all over the country so no day is ever the same. The aircraft surveys the whole of the rail network from above and looks for any potential faults with the equipment along the infrastructure. My job is to spot flaws before a failure occurs as this helps to keep the network running safely and smoothly.

“The best part of my job is the travel. I’ve travelled across the entire country now and have seen it all from above, sometimes I have to pinch myself because it is so breath-taking. I also get to meet lots of different people which is so interesting, including many of our engineers who come up in the helicopter with us.”

Network Rail staff will be going into schools across the country to deliver educational sessions on careers in the STEM sector from March 3 2017. The organisation is also looking to recruit 150 apprentices across the country.

To find out more information about careers at Network Rail, or to apply for one of our apprenticeships, please visit

Currently, 16% of Network Rail’s 37,000 strong workforce is female. The organisation aims to increase this to 20 percent by 2020.

During National Apprenticeship Week and International Women’s Day there will be a series of events taking place across the country – please find details of these below.

National Apprenticeship Week

Applications for the September 2017 intake of the Advanced Apprenticeship Scheme have been extended to the end of National Apprenticeship Week.

International Women’s Day

Female employees from Network Rail will be delivering educational talks and training sessions in the following schools across the country to inspire young women about careers in engineering:

Ash Mannor School, Surrey

Archbishop Holgate’s School, York

Lord Derby Academy, Derby

St Edwards School, Derby

Liverpool Academy, Liverpool

Frances Bardsley Academy for girls, Romford

Brigshaw High School, Leeds

Dough Ewart High School, Scotland

Bishop Ramsey School, Middlesex

Lowport School, Linlithgow, Scotland

Maghaull High School, Merseyside

Henbury School, Bristol