International Women's Day
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International Women's Day

  • InternationalWomensDayNikki2
  • 8 Mar 2016

This month, in honour of International Women’s Day we’ve spoken to our female drivers and service controllers to find out how and why they entered what’s usually a male dominated profession.

Nikki Sohal has worked at Heathrow Express for 11 years and is currently a Service Controller & Instructor

International Womens Day Nikki

What does your job involve?

As a Service Control Instructor, my remit’s quite extensive but on a day to day basis I manage the train service from the control room – making sure services run on time and managing disruptions to re-align the service with the timetable. I also train new controllers, as well as assessing their progress. 

Is every day the same?

No, not at all! Every shift is completely different and I’ve learned to expect the unexpected. One day it might be quite quiet with a smooth operating service without any hiccups and the next I could be on the radio all day, managing service problems such as signal failures and subsequent delays. 

How did you become a Service Controller?

I actually started my career working for British Airways and I was with them for 16 years before I left to live in the States for a while. When I returned to the UK I decided to look for a job in and around Heathrow as I missed the buzz of the airport and fortunately I was in the right place at the right time as an opportunity became available with Heathrow Express. Needless to say - 11 years later - here I am! 

What qualifications do you have?

In March 2015, I completed a Railway Operational Management Degree, which was sponsored by Heathrow Express.

It took me two and a half years to complete as I did it in my own time. I’m fortunate that Heathrow Express gave me the opportunity at the ripe old age of 45 to learn and develop and broaden my horizons in terms of career prospects. 

What’s the best thing about your job?

Variation and the unpredictability are definitely the best things – I never know what’s going to happen from one shift to the next. I also never stop learning – every day can teach you something new and different about your role that you didn’t know before and it’s exciting. And of course my work colleagues and the camaraderie in the control room is fantastic. 

What’s the worst thing about your job?

It’s funny, the same qualities that I consider to be the best qualities about my job are also the worst. The unpredictability – although exciting – can also be quite daunting. Of course the pros outweigh the cons otherwise I wouldn’t be able to do the job!

The other thing is the sugar rush you crave at 3am in the morning during a night shift and the willpower you need not give in to temptation! 

Kirsty Sando has worked at Heathrow Express for 8 years and is currently the Interim Service Manager.

International Womens Day Kirsty

What have your roles at Heathrow Express involved?

I’ve worked across various departments and want to try to make sure the role of a driver is more integrated in to the other operational teams. As part of this I created training modules to explain to drivers how they can personally influence the overall business success including their impact on commercial success, sales and service.

How have you progressed to your current role?

I joined as a customer service representative (CSR). The role involved working at Heathrow and Paddington station, dispatching trains on time, selling tickets and working on the platforms. After three years, primarily motivated by the appeal of the prestige of the role, I applied to become a train driver. 

The training was extensive but I passed and became a fully qualified driver at 24, at the time, the second youngest driver in the business. When I qualified my grandad was so proud of me, it was a huge thing for him. Loads of my friends were quite shocked when I told them, they didn’t believe me... that quickly changed to wanting to know how it all works!

After three years working as a driver, the minimum qualification period recommended by the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC), I became a driver manager aged 28.

At the moment I am working on secondment as a service manager but will soon be returning to the driver team as a driver manager, where I will work with the Head of Drivers on changes within the role and recruitment of train drivers at Heathrow Express.

What qualifications do you have?

After completing my schooling, I went to University where I studied to be a primary school teacher. It had always been my chosen career but about half way through my degree I realised the role and responsibility just didn’t match my expectation. There was too much red tape and I couldn’t do my own thinking.  I graduated, took a job in Boots and applied to be a customer service manager at Heathrow Express. That was my first proper job, joining when I was 21. 

What’s the best thing about your job?

One of the best things is the great team ethic; I know that I will always have the support and commitment from my team every day.  Every day is different and I enjoy the challenges that come with each shift.  I love the diversity of the people we have working at Heathrow Express, everyone has different backgrounds and when you get to know people you realise just what a fantastic workforce we have.

What’s the worst thing about your job?

Sometimes it’s a struggle getting up for work on an early shift but after 8 years of shift I know that’s just part of the job!

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