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Equipping managers for success through flexible learning

South Western Railway has a substantial workforce – around 5,500 people performing a whole range of jobs, from train drivers to customer service to HR. Many of those colleagues have worked for the company for a long time and have a deep knowledge base, but as they move into more senior roles, they don’t always have formal management training.

Kirstie Thompson, Apprenticeship Compliance Manager at South Western Railway, says the company has a great internal development programme, but it wanted to offer more, particularly to its community of managers and leaders. After all, “People are what make the business run”, she says and so the company decided to invest in management capabilities through the Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship (CMDA) provided by The Open University (OU).

As with many sectors, there are a lot of accidental managers in the railway industry – people who were in a supervisory role, for example, were promoted into management but weren’t given the training and support to become really effective managers. Kirstie’s role involves looking at all the internal promotions across the business and then reaching out to people who would benefit from management support to discuss the learning opportunities available to them.

Developing the skills for success

The programme provides access to that formal training, which is designed to expand the existing knowledge and skills base. It also ensures that all managers and leaders have achieved a certain standard of competency, which is important to South Western Railway.

That’s that we’re looking for from people and the apprenticeship is that great combination of the theory and the practical. It’s where you can look at some of the things that happen within the wider business and it helps you understand what we’ve done and why we’ve done it. It’s really important that all of our managers and leaders have that underpinning knowledge because that will help create high performing teams.

Kirstie Thompson
Apprenticeship Compliance Manager at South Western Railway

The importance of flexible learning delivery

Kirstie and Liz

The OU’s delivery model of distance learning that is delivered flexibly and with a high level of support also works well for the company. The workforce is dispersed across a wide geographical area, with a lot of people working shift patterns, flexible hours or part time. The fact that employees can access the learning material 24x7, at a time and location that suits them, and can be fitted in around work and family commitments, is highly beneficial. Liz Ponting, Sector Lead for Transport and Logistics at the OU, works with organisations to find out what their individual learning needs are and how best to meet them. She soon realised that flexibility was key to the needs of South Western Railway’s workforce. “Kirstie reached out to The Open University because she was looking for a provider who would offer flexibility to her colleagues. She needed something that was flexible so they didn’t have to come to campus – a 24x7 university that would fit around their shifts and bring the learning to them.”

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Frankie, Operational Competence Standards Specialist at South Western Railway

Frankie didn’t have a good experience of school and became a qualified dance teacher when he left. He later joined the railway industry as a driver and enjoyed it, but soon aspired to become a manager. Frankie took a role at South Western Railway and within three months was offered the chance to study for the Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship. He is so pleased to have been given the opportunity to study, gain a recognised qualification and move his career forward.

There’s some exciting modules coming up and those modules will enable me to utilize information and embed it into my daily routine.

Operational Competence Standards Specialist at South Western Railway


Martyn Carroll, Asset Policy and Standards Manager at South Western Railway

Martyn has dyslexia and also found school difficult so left aged 16 and joined the army. He left after 23 years and started working for South Western Railway. He’s now doing the Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship, which for him includes getting his level 2 Maths and English, something the OU has helped him with. Martyn has found the support from the OU invaluable, particularly around his dyslexia, and is delighted to have the opportunity to learn more about management and gain a qualification.

I’m enjoying the learning and I’m quite ambitious, always looking for that next move forward, so when I finish I can potentially look for bigger and better jobs within South Western Railway.

Martyn Carroll
Asset Policy and Standards Manager at South Western Railway

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