Employer Case Study
Network Rail

“Aligning the skills of Network Rail and potential recruits might mean that they will stay with the organisation longer.”

Aaron Gracey, Network Rail

How the Officers' Association worked with Network Rail

The UK government published its National Infrastructure Plan for Skills in September 2015. This plan recognised the significant shortfall of skilled workforce that is required to deliver UK's planned infrastructure projects. As one of the key organisations affected by this skills shortage, Network Rail started to look at wider opportunities to recruit people into their organisation. As part of this exercise, Network Rail began a process to recruit more effectively and widely from the ex-military community. Chris Ackerman (Programme Manager, Network Rail) explains that the process started by discussing with Officers' Association a way in which to skills map the military skills against those needed at Network Rail.

The Process
The skills mapping process undertaken by the Officers' Association in conjunction with Network Rail is outlined below:

Role Identification

  • Identify key roles to be skills mapped
  • 10 roles were identified

Developing a Skills Framework

  • Use the Job Descriptions for the roles as a starting point to list the skills, qualifications, and competencies required
    Discussions with HR and Line Managers to refine the skills framework
  • Four groups of skills and competencies were identified in the framework - Technical, General, Leadership/ Management, and Behaviours

Skills Validation

  • Interviews with Network Rail employees currently in the roles identified above as well as supervisors/line managers
    Identify key skills needed for the roles based on the interviews

Skills Map against Military

  • Using courses and training that are underatken by officers in the Army, the skills sets and qualifications of the officers were matched against the Network Rail skills framework

The Outcomes & Benefits
The skills validation process revealed that General, Leadership/Management and Behaviours were as important as technical skills when recruiting and selecting people for these roles. This was an important step in aligning the needs of the role with that of the recruitment strategy.


“Aligning the skills of Network Rail and potential recruits might mean that they will stay with the organisation longer.”
Aaron Gracey, Network Rail

The skills mapping process resulted in developing a framework that indicated the alignment of the skills required by Network Rail with the skills of the military. A RAG1 (Red, Amber, and Green) code was developed to indicate this alignment. Chris Ackerman states that the skills map helps understand the ‘skills package that people who are coming in have, both from a recruitment perspective and their potential training and development requirements'.

As Aaron Gracey (Armed Forces Engagement Manager, Network Rail) explains, the benefit of this process is that it can allow Network Rail to target the right individual with the right skill sets for these roles. This in turn would mean a more focussed recruitment and training strategy. A long term potential benefit of this, Aron mentions, is that aligning the skills of Network Rail and potential recruits might mean that, they will stay with the organisation longer. This will then resulting reduced staff turnover and reduction of associated recruitment and training costs.

The Costs & Challenges
The skills mapping process undertaken by Network Rail is not without its costs and challenges. Chris Ackerman mentions that the greatest costs were resource and time. Employees at Network Rail had to support, take part, and manage this process over and above their job roles. This meant progress was not always consistent and heavily influenced by other workloads and priorities.

Aaron Gracey also mentioned that another key challenge was to engage frontline teams and supervisors from the outset of the project rather than it being a purely Human Resource based exercise. Allowing frontline teams to review the skills to develop the initial skills framework may involve challenging prevalent norms and assumptions. However, this process will ensure team acceptance of the skills framework as well as ensuring that the skills identified are relevant for the roles and the organisation.

The military skills mapping phase also had its challenges. As Keith Spencer (Business Development Manager, Officers' Association), who carried out this task explained, due to tight delivery deadlines to complete the mapping, the Army was the only Service used in this exercise. Keith identified key branches within the Army (Royal Engineers, Royal Mechanical Engineers, and Logistical Core) which would contain the skills that are more aligned with the needs of Network Rail. More time and resource allocation would enable expanding these into the other Services to get a more detailed representation of where skills matches might prevail. For any other organisation considering a similar process to develop an effective military recruitment programme, Keith has the following advice, ‘know what your business need is and bear in mind that the effort and time put into this would reflect the quality of the product you end up with'.

Moving Forward
The skills mapping exercise facilitates the way forward in effective recruitment at Network Rail. However, it is still a work-in-progress. Network Rail are planning to develop a ranking system to prioritise the skills and qualifications needed for potential Network Rail employees in specific projects and roles, thereby refining the skills framework further.

Back to top