I was assigned a host team in the Technical Authority and my role was to support their activities. It typically involved morning Teams calls (because of remote working), a few meetings throughought the day to discuss anything important, and the rest of the time would be for various projects I was working on. Projects I worked on included: re-drafting of standards, validation of contractor work, analysis of a structure's loads and foundations, and developing risk frameworks. As the year progressed I worked more independently and didn't need as much help from my manager/team.
I undertook training sessions on: how to work safely on the railway, how suppliers can design their products to be more reliable and compatible with Network Rail's needs, being a STEM Ambassador, how to stand up for race equality, using Power BI and I was encouraged to do other CPD as well e.g. webinars. I developed particularly in my communication due to various reports and presentations. I also spent a significant amount of time developing a loading model of a structure on Excel so developed my capabilities in it. My main learning was about the activities of my team and the railway in general as I was new to the industry. My manager for example gave me some training when I first joined to explain the basics of electrification.
Not so much at first because there was a lot for me to learn when joining. However, as the year progressed I was given a lot more responsibility. For example, I spent most of the second half of my placement doing my own analysis and then producing a follow up report of around 20,000 words with only weekly meetings with my manager to check on my progress and so that I could ask questions. I was proud with what I produced and had signed off as it'll (hopefully) lead to R+D workstreams being set-up.
The general attitude of the team I joined was very positive and everybody was helpful and gave useful advice. Even senior people I met in meetings (e.g. my manager's manager's manager) offered their time if I wanted careers advice. I had both a line manager (for more general stuff) and a host manager (for more technical stuff) to support me and there were plenty of other places as well where I could go for help. The option was also available to me to anonymously bring up issues if I wanted to. I was provided with a chartered engineer to mentor me during the professional development process of my institute (IMechE) which was a huge help and helped me get the most out of the year.
The culture in the Technical Authority was fantastic, especially compared to other places I'd been to. My own development was prioritised and diversity and inclusion (D&amp;I) were very very high in the agenda. There are many groups to join for events and support, e.g. a multifaith group, a group for carers, and a group to help with coping with bereavement. All employees are allowed to take up to 5 days a year for (paid) volunteering with a charity of your choice. I don't imagine the atmosphere is quite the same in other locations around the UK, though, because the Delivery Units are known for being a bit more laddish, so I think I was lucky location-wise, but company-wide initiatives are being implemented so it may well all change in the coming years.
I very much enjoyed my year at Network Rail and I would go back. I was in a great team that were welcoming and supportive, and the general atmosphere impressed me. Unfortunately, the onset of Covid and lockdowns meant I didn't get as much of a practical experience as I wanted, but I still managed to get a two week placement on track. I enjoyed most of the work I did and there was huge flexibility such that I could choose the work I did and I even had the option to move to a different team if I wasn't enjoying the work.
To have a really good understanding of their values and priorirites because that's what they'll be looking for throughout the application process (For example some key things are: ethics, leadership, working with others, safety, dealing with customers). Also, be aware that NR would ideally want the placement students to return as graduates so it would be useful to research the graduate roles and the job requirments for them. It would be useful to know about how engineering is split up (e.g. track, E&P, civil engineering etc.) so you know what team would suit you best. Also, be aware of the difference between being based at a DU, and being located at Milton Keynes/London (where it's a bit more corporate-y and you'll have lots more experience around you).
Placement Year (10 Months+)