Colas Rail UK’s On Track Plant Team recently welcomed 20-year-old Lewis Rock to their team, one of the youngest qualified Kirow crane operators in the UK.

Gaining his qualifications earlier this year at 19 years old after a training course arranged by an experienced Kirow trainer, Lewis has wasted no time getting familiarised with using Colas Rail UK’s Kirow crane fleet.

We sat down with Lewis recently where he was happy to discuss his experiences and what the future holds for him:

How did you hear about the opportunity with Colas Rail UK?

“I didn’t really know too much about the railway when I first started searching for a change of career. I used to be an Apprentice Aircraft Fitter and I wanted a change after finishing my NVQ so I started looking for a new challenge.

I’ve always worked on cars when I was younger, I did a lot of motorsport racing. I’ve always enjoyed getting stuck in and getting my hands dirty so the job role was something I could be passionate about and take the experience with me into my hobbies.

So, after a standard job hunt I came across the opportunity to work for Colas Rail UK’s team and I haven’t looked back since!”

How did you hear about the opportunity with Colas Rail UK?

“The support network has been great, they’re happy to let me crack on and learn the trade. They always stress to me that ‘give it time and it’ll come’.

I refer passing my crane operating test to a driving test, the real learning starts when you’ve passed it and you’re out in the field, under the pressure and the circumstances on site. They keep reiterating that to me and to give it time and it’ll come.

If I have any problems in the job or regarding maintenance they’re always happy to help and are very supportive.

I feel like I’m trusted more here than in my Apprenticeship. I’m not afraid to ask questions if I don’t know how to do something, even if I get a bit of banter back from the team they take the time to help me out.”

“Since I was young, I always wanted to be a Manager but in the short term my goals are to get all of my qualifications with hopefully doing enough to become a Team Leader.

But for the time being it is all about getting the experience and learning the job and taking my time. The last thing I want to do is rush it and start making mistakes.

I just completed my Level 3 NVQ in Rolling Stock Maintenance, but I’m always looking to keep pushing myself. I thrive for success and I want to keep going, the sky’s the limit.

I don’t have a set goal of where I want to be, I just want to keep pushing myself to get to the top.”

How does it feel to be considered one of the youngest, if not the youngest crane operator in the UK?

“Initially it was shock, I was driving home after the training and I was so proud I was 19 when I passed and I looking back I only finished school three years ago. I did two of those years in my Apprenticeship and then joined Colas Rail UK with my NVQ and my Kirow qualification, it’s quite overwhelming but I’m proud that I’ve been given the chance!

I think investment in youth is the way forward, I’m glad Colas Rail UK have given me the chance to show what young people are capable of. I think a lot of young people get looked down upon sometimes, but we can come in with new ideas that can challenge the old way of thinking as I’ve come from a different background.

I feel like young people just aren’t given a chance very often, although I’ve only been here a year I’ve had a considerable amount of experience to be able to make an impact on changing the workplace culture.”

What advice would you have for someone finishing school or looking for a change in career?

“From my experience, my previous job was 9-5 Monday to Friday and I felt I took a bit of a risk coming to Colas Rail UK. But I think you’ve got to take risks to get the reward, obviously making sure they’re calculated risks and you know what you’re doing.

But if you can see where you want to be you’ve got to compromise, compromise time with family, compromise money, whatever it is or whatever it may be because if you truly want to get somewhere then you’ll make it and some people doubt themselves because of what people may told them in the past, but in hindsight just do it and make the most of it.

I would also say don’t be afraid to go out of your comfort zone and keep learning and asking to do new things. If I was offered to go on a course I’d take it, even if it’s ‘how to sweep up the floor’ because it’ll be something I can use to improve myself and I can use in work

Honestly the Apprenticeship is the best thing I could have done, any young person that has been given the opportunity to do an Apprenticeship should take it. I think an Apprenticeship is the way forward.”

Is there anybody that’s been helpful to your development?

“David Thomas and Richard Pearce has been very helpful and they’ve helped me a lot with my workplace development but also taught me a lot about workplace mannerisms, how to conduct myself and simpler things such as taking my time to make sure a job is done right.

My main inspiration has been my Dad, he works in manufacturing so he’s also taught me how to conduct myself at work and has always pushed me throughout life to keep learning. He was the one that motivated me to get an Apprenticeship when I finished school, to be honest the Apprenticeship is the best thing I could have done.

Speaking about Lewis’ development, On Track Plant Manager, David Thomas said:

“Lewis was young, keen and motivated when we took him on at Colas Rail UK. I’ve found in my experience that is quite rare when dealing with people around his age so I was compelled to give him a chance.

It was almost the case of what have I got to lose by giving him a chance, because at the end of the day we need to go forward with our team. We can’t always take on someone who is at the end of their career, so in Lewis’ case I wanted to invest in him and his professional development.

I was given the chance to work in the railway at 16 and I’ve always tried to give younger people a chance because to me it’s how you improve and look after the future and the only way we’ll achieve that is to invest in youth.

Lewis’ development has really come on in recent months where he’s been given the opportunities to showcase himself and it’s snowballed from there, especially in the last six to nine months.”