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Starting a Career in the Rail Industry: How to get your PTS
A career in the rail industry can be extremely rewarding, both financially and in terms of job satisfaction. The industry is in a good place in the UK with new projects starting all the time and Network Rail is currently undertaking a £38 billion upgrade programme to the network.
Working in rail, any worker has the potential to build a successful career if they are willing to put in the necessary effort and complete the right qualifications. Once you have a foot in the door, you can quickly develop your skillset and increase your earnings potential.
However, there is one common challenge when starting out in rail: Getting your PTS. In this short guide, we will explain what PTS is, how you can get it, and what your options are once you have it.
What is PTS?
PTS stands for Personal Track Safety and it is the first competence (sometimes called a ticket) that you must gain before you can even consider working on or near a railway line owned or managed by Network Rail. Network Rail owns and manages nearly all the UK’s rail network, and they set the rules and regulations around working on the railway.
There are two parts to the PTS course:
Many different trades and skills are transferrable to the rail industry, so those with experience from other industries will be at an advantage once they have gained their PTS. Once you have a PTS, you can continue to gain new qualifications and eventually move into a specific rail specialism, such as:
Why can it be difficult to get your PTS?
It seems straightforward; take a PTS course, gain the competence, and find a job on the rail. Unfortunately, it is not that simple. For safety reasons, Network Rail no longer allows people to pay for their own PTS training. This means that if you want to undertake the PTS training, you will need to find a ‘Sponsor’. The decision to stop people from paying for their own training was made in order to protect workers in the rail industry, helping to ensure every worker is properly trained. Whilst this is a positive, it has made it more difficult for many people to take their first step into the rail industry.
What is a ‘Sponsor’ and how do you get one?
A sponsor is a company, most commonly a rail employer, that will put you forward and pay for your PTS training. Once you’ve completed it, they will also provide you with work, appropriate PPE (personal protective equipment and workwear) and they will make sure you are up to date with any rule changes and keep your qualifications in date.
Your sponsor will also require you to do a medical as well as a drug & alcohol test before you do PTS training. The medical is usually fairly basic, covering sight, hearing, and general health. The drugs & alcohol test will recognise drugs & medication taken within the last 6 weeks, and failing the test results in at automatic 5-year ban from all Network Rail work. Random testing for those already holding a PTS certification is commonplace, and failure or refusal to take one will also result in a 5-year ban.
How do you find a Sponsor?
Finding a sponsor to put you through your training can be very difficult and is the biggest obstacle to overcome when trying to start a career on the railway. However, there are a few different options to explore when trying to find a sponsor.
The rail industry is experiencing a skills shortage, so rail contractors need new staff. A rail contractor may agree to sponsor a worker if they are new to the industry, so search for some large companies and have a look on their careers websites – you may find some jobs to apply for. You should also do some research into various apprentice schemes available in the industry. Many rail contractors run apprentice schemes, and they can be an excellent way to be introduced to the railway.
At Coyle, our team are often asked if we can put workers through their PTS. Unfortunately, it is very rare that a recruitment agency will sponsor a worker to complete their PTS. While it may happen in very special circumstances, do not count on receiving sponsorship from an agency if you’re just starting out.
What are the next steps?
Once you have the PTS qualification, you are ready to start working on the railway. At first, this is usually with your Sponsor, although you do have the option to find work elsewhere. When you first start working on the railway, you will have to wear a blue hard hat, showing that you are an inexperienced worker. Your supervisor will decide when you are then able to wear a white hat, showing that you have some experience. This usually takes around 6 months.
At this point, you can take further qualifications and look into different specialisms within the rail industry. This may be the best time to get in touch with an agency like Coyle, as consultants will be able to help you find good work and advise you on the next best steps for your career. Alternatively, you can stick with your sponsor, gain more experience, and see what opportunities come your way.
PTS (Personal Track Safety) is the minimum qualification required to work on the railway, and it can prove difficult to find a sponsor to put you through it. Once you have it, however, you are in a great place to build a successful career in a growing industry. Get in touch with a member of our rail team today to find out more about opportunities with Coyle.