Transport for London employs approximately 400 apprentices and 100 graduates. Recognising the unique challenges for young people in rail, a small group of graduates established a Schemes Mental Health Working Group last year. Undertaking an annual survey, they regularly review what it is that the young people within TfL want and need.
Knowing Where and How to Get Help
TfL has many resources staff can draw on if they are struggling, including in-house trauma specialist counselling and mental health services, an employee assistance line, staff network groups, an incident reporting service and mental health first aid trained peer supporters. Like many companies, the challenge is often knowing what help is on offer and how to access it. All new apprentices and graduates have an induction, in which the Working Group now do a presentation so new starters know where they can go for help. Another consequence of this is that new starters know the group’s friendly faces, so they can approach them at a later point for a chat if they need it, or even get involved with the group themselves. Some of the Working Group are trained Mental Health First Aiders, and the ambition is to roll this out across the group
TfL ensures there are multiple layers of support for young new starters. They have a buddy scheme where they are partnered with someone from the year above. Peer support systems, particularly for those with a disability or long-term condition, has been demonstrated to improve job retention, confidence, self-esteem, and social skills, as well as reducing sickness absence. Their placement managers change along with their placements and are responsible for day to day management. However, all graduates and apprentices also have a sponsor who is responsible for their professional and personal development as a whole. Their sponsor is more than just a manager, and at times can take on more of a pastoral role. Having a sponsor who is a step removed from the day to day grind and provides consistency during such times of change can act like a secure organisational base. Finally, they have a dedicated HR advisor for each particular scheme, some of whom are trained mental health first aiders.
Keeping the Conversation Going
Along with the annual survey, the Working Group keeps the dialogue around mental health in the workplace open through regular events and a newsletter. They draw on in-house resources and wider organisations to run sessions as diverse as mindfulness, to group discussions on topics such as stress and anxiety and talks on issues like money and mental health. In both the newsletter and the events, they regularly have people share their first-hand experiences of mental health. Their event for World Mental Health Day this year will have Director of Surface Strategy and Network Development, Ben Plowden, speak about his own experiences of mental health. A message like this is powerful for all employees and is even stronger for shaping the beliefs and identities of young people in rail. The messages young people hear now are messages that will stay with them.
The Working Group currently runs without any additional budget, just the time and motivation of its members. Apprenticeships and grad schemes provide a valuable bridge for young people into employment and adulthood. Nurturing young people in rail will contribute not only to a better railway today but is an important investment in our future.