Read Sam's story
My name is Sam West and I am a HR Graduate working in Milton Keynes at Network Rail. I previously studied Modern History at university and have now been working at Network Rail for a year, having started in September 2017.
Three or so years ago, as a History student, I admittedly did not know a great deal about HR. If anything, I possibly had an outdated pre‐conception about Human Resources and its role in the workplace; that they were there to ‘support’ rather than to lead and that they were largely there to mediate any disputes in the business.
It was only when I approached the end of my degree and began to explore career paths that I began to realise just how much more HR was and could be, and that it would be something I would be very interested in pursuing a career in.
My time in Network Rail as a HR Graduate over the last year has only cemented my realisation of the importance of Human Resources in contributing to not only realising business objectives, but also in setting the strategy in organisations. The importance of HR is becoming increasingly recognised in businesses and I feel very lucky to have started my career in HR at such an exciting time for the function.
From setting the right reward package for employees, to setting the diversity and inclusion strategy to make sure everyone is comfortable and catered for at work, to aiding line management with creating their own talent and succession plans, to working and negotiating with trade unions, HR has a pivotal role to play in the business in many diverse ways. I am lucky to be on a graduate scheme in which every four months or so, you rotate into a different department of HR. So far I have worked in HR Operations, Reward & Benefits and completed a generalist HR Business Partner placement in our telecoms department.
One of the greatest things about working at Network Rail is the culture that it promotes in the workplace. It is very accommodating and inclusive and friendly and promotes sharing ideas. The culture is also one of flexibility and of trust, and it has been great to work for an organisation which encourages breaks, allow you to set your own working hours (within reason) and work from home from time to time. My typical day is 8‐4 (although this can vary), and it’s great to work for a company with such a focus on a work‐life balance. I have also been supported by Network Rail in pursuing my CIPD Level 5* qualification, and we are encouraged to take time off work each week to focus on our apprenticeship and the learning that comes with it. Below are some top tips for graduates in the workplace, based on my own experience.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions, even if they might seem silly. People are always keen to share their knowledge, especially if it gives them chance to talk about their own role!
- Take time to focus on your own development. It is easy to get lost in the day to day job, but don’t be afraid to turn off your phone and emails at times and focus on your own development and learning.
- Take opportunities that come to you to work with other parts of the business to expand your knowledge. Some of the most exciting and developmental projects I have taken part in on Network Rail have been as part of cross‐departmental working groups, which have given me a chance to learn more about the business and widen my network.
- Manage your time effectively. As a graduate, you will be given plenty of work to do and you may also have to balance this with your studying. This will require effective time management and organisational abilities.
- It’s not only what you do, but how you do it. Maintaining great relationships at work and approaching things with a positive attitude is one of the most important things you can do as a graduate, as it will make both your experience at work more positive and people will be more inclined to help you.
* This is a pre-2021 CIPD qualification.
Explore career areas within the people profession, and the typical activities you may find yourself doing
Information and guidance to help you excel in your role, transition into the profession, and manage a career break
Read the CIPD’s November 2023 submission to His Majesty’s Treasury