Knowledge management 26 April 2019

Inspiring the Next Generation: Bridging the Gap

The UK requires 124,000 engineers and technicians with core engineering skills and 79,000 related roles each year up to 2024, according to a report, Engineering UK: The state of engineering.  However, the report anticipates a shortfall of up to 59,000 due to the supply of talent coming through the education system. To help year 8 students get hands-on experience of how science, technology engineering and maths (STEM) can open up an exciting career in the railway industry, the Midland Main Line worked with set Leicestershire Education Business Company (LEBC) to create an engaging and inspiring programme.

Benefits at a Glance:

  • Helping to address the expected skills shortfall by giving students given real insight into the diverse, interesting, challenging and rewarding careers that are available on the railway
  • Students given the opportunity to develop life skills such as teamwork, communication, problem solving, time management and presentation 
  • Employees from Network Rail and supply chain partners trained as STEM ambassadors and passed on their enthusiasm to inspire the next generation of railway professionals
  • Engaging with the local community and promoting the works we do to make the rail network better for everyone


The Bridge to the Future project was an eight-week programme of activities involving students from three schools in Loughborough: Charnwood College, Limehurst Academy and Woodbrook Vale High School.  All activities were themed around understand the process involved in building a bridge for The Great Central Railway, to carry the heritage railway’s steam trains over the Midland Main Line.

To truly understand all the steps involved in building a bridge, students learned how to:

  • Complete ecological / wildlife surveys on site
  • Test ground stability through geotechnical surveys
  • Obtain planning consent
  • Plan, design and build embankments and bridges
  • Understand the complex processes involved in improving and maintaining the rail network
  • Calculate costs


Students were also given an understanding of careers on the railway, and Network Rail apprenticeships.

The programme culminated in an event at Loughborough University, which was attended by Nicky Morgan, local MP and then Secretary of State for Education. At the start of the day, students were given an introductory presentation and divided into groups and given a role: a Project Manager, Environmental Specialist, Engineering Manager, Commercial, Planning & Logistics Expert and a Communications Manager.  They then had an ‘expert’ workshop, led by Network Rail and its supply chain partners before being given a series of activities where the students had to work together as a team – and draw on their specialist expert knowledge –  to progress. Activities included working as a team to reconstruct a bridge within a possession, and designing and building a bridge for the Great Central Railway.


  • Positive feedback from students, such as:
    • Charnwood College student: “It was really interesting to find out about different roles. I was in the communication team. I had then had to go back to my team and be an expert, and collaborate to get answers, that was fun.”
    • Limehurst Academy student: “It has been really good fun today and  it has made me think about a career in engineering.”
    • Woodbrook Vale High School student: It was a really good experience and very enjoyable to get out of school and do something different. I’d like to come to another event like this”
  • Every student that took part achieved a bronze STEM certificate
  • Employees enjoyed the opportunity to share their knowledge and expertise; all completed STEM Ambassador training, went to practice sessions and dedicated a day of their time to make the event a success
  • Nicky Morgan, Loughborough MP and then Secretary of State for Education said: “It’s really great to come to an event such as this which is helping to forge relationships between business and education. The children taking part today could very well be building the future of our country. I am passionate about more girls thinking about – and getting jobs in – engineering. Certainly, when I was at school, no ever spoke to me about being an engineer. But things are changing as shown by this event today. I know events such as this don’t happen without a lot of hard work, so well done Network Rail.”


Lessons Learned/Best Practice

  • Working closely with the Leicestershire Education Business Company, which coordinates the East Midlands STEM Ambassador Hub, enabled the Midland Main Line team to build an 8-week programme that not only introduced students to the wide range of opportunities available in the railway industry, but also achieve a bronze STEM certificate