Case study: Colas Rail Apprenticeships - Building Sustainable Skills

Through their apprenticeship programme Colas Rail have been able to build their future talent base, deliver social value to clients and leave a legacy in the communities they operate.

Company: Colas Rail Limited

What’s the issue being addressed?

Through the work undertaken for their clients, Colas Rail aims to deliver social value to their customers, deliver a lasting legacy and address the wider skills shortage in the railway industry. This involves attracting new people into the railway industry, nurturing existing talent and being an attractive employer. It links to broader issues identified as part of the government’s Transport Infrastructure Skills Strategy of promoting transport and engineering as a career; encouraging greater diversity in the workforce; meet the challenge of new technologies; the right mix of apprenticeships on offer; and 30, 000 new apprentices to 2020.

How was this solved?

In order to address the issue of the skills gap in the transport industry, particularly rail, and to be able to deliver consistent social value to its clients, Colas Rail Ltd. established an Early Careers Strategy and multiple business critical Trailblazer Apprenticeships Programmes at all levels within the last two years. This also allows Colas Rail to have a robust operational succession plan in place, contributing to the overall sustainability of the business. Their Executive Board of Directors, down to their mentors and coaches support the education and training delivery.

The strategy is in line with the government’s Transport Infrastructure Skills Strategy, focusing on bringing early careers talent into the business but also supporting the whole rail industry by promoting opportunities in rail. This is also a key part of their operational succession plan and wider business success. Colas Rail promote opportunities on social media channels as well as attending over 50 events annually, such as at University Technical Colleges, Colleges and Career events, to promote all the early career opportunities they have. This all helps to promote the opportunities to the potential students at the colleges and helps the parents to dispel the negative myths about apprenticeships. Colas Rail are also active members of the Apprentice Diversity Champions Network, created to promote apprenticeship opportunities and to share ideas about how to increase the diversity of the Apprentice Programmes.


Colas Rail is one of the few rail industry partners who are currently set up to be an Apprentice Employer and Training provider and was one of the first to become accredited. All of the programmes are either Technical Engineering programmes designed to develop future Engineers at all levels or Management/Leadership Programmes designed to develop Future Leaders. Each of the Apprentice level training programmes tie back to their professional body such as the PWI and IRSE, therefore not only does an apprentice gain their apprenticeship level, they all get the Engtech, IEng or Chartership credentials as appropriate.

Internal Learning & Development Programmes in Colas Rail tie into the various levels within the apprentice schemes and link to the technical competency frameworks and safety and leadership training programmes. These courses build the behavioural skills required at Colas Rail in order to move talent through the various job levels in the business.

Colas Rail is also a member of the 5% Club. Members of the Club commit to raising the number of apprentices, sponsored students and graduates on formal programmes to 5% of their total workforce within five years.

Innovation in Apprenticeship Schemes

Colas Rail are leading the way to establish apprenticeship programmes across other areas, such as Light Rail. They are launching a Tramway Operative Apprentice Programme at Level 2 as part of the Midland Metro Alliance (MMA) in Birmingham, with the proposed standard agreed in principle with the Institute for Apprentices and the standard formally approved in October 2018. The Apprenticeship programme will launch in the MMA in 2019 and will be the first Light Rail Apprenticeship Programme in the UK.

What were the outcomes?

The following achievements highlight the success of the Early Careers Strategy:

  • In the S&C Alliance South with Network Rail there are 61 Apprentices, which is 3 times the requirement (based on contract value) of the 1 apprentice per £3-£5 million spend requirement
  • Diversity: 15% of current apprentices are from a BAME background
  • Retention: there is a 97% retention rate on Level 3 & 4 apprenticeship programmes over the last 2 years
  • “The Colas Rail scheme differs in that they push their graduates into meaningful roles much sooner than other companies. This fast tracks the future leaders to positions that would not be possible in other organisations. This means there is a talent conveyor belt of future leaders for both operational and back office roles.” Steve Featherstone (Network Rail Programme Director – Track)


  • Positive Social Impact
  • Being an Employer of Choice
  • Supporting the Economy

Asset/ operations


Organisation type


Log in or register to keep reading
Register for free individual access
  • Unlock research, articles and more
  • Get updates on RSSB’s activities





Need some help?
To talk to us about accessing RSSB content or corporate membership:
Cookies help us improve your website experience.
By using our website, you agree to our use of cookies.