Achieving a four fold uplift in female driver recruitment

The work

In early 2023, amidst a backdrop of prolonged industrial action, there was very little positive sentiment towards train operators or train drivers. But regardless of public opinion around the role, maintaining a steady flow of fresh recruits is an essential operational function. Avanti West Coast has an industry leading ambition that 50% of train driver applicants will be female by 2030 so to hit that target it needed to accelerate its female recruitment drive, fast.

Research identified two major barriers to increasing the number of female applicants:  The perception the train driving was a ‘male’ profession and a process which did not set female applicants up to succeed. 

Karen Harrison, one of the UK’s first female train drivers was a trailblazer for women in rail, and became the inspiration this campaign.

Working with world renowned muralist, Akse-19, we created a 8x5m mural of Karen using archive imagery from her training days. We then strategically positioned it on platform three at Euston station, a busy thoroughfare with tens of thousands of passengers passing by every day. The photorealistic mural pointed those interested in a drivers role to the Avanti website and brought attention that whilst  in 1979 becoming a female train driver like Karen was a big deal, today it isn’t.  

We got buy-in from the Avanti West Coast board, the DfT and the unions to overhaul the recruitment process – namely removing the short application window and cap on applications which had hampered female applicants in the past  and with our friends at Cubaka built the rail industry’s first ever social recruitment chatbot – designed to help potential trainee drivers understand more about the role and to encourage them to apply.  

A fully integrated communications campaign,  launched a whole month before applications opened giving  potential applicants plenty of time to think about applying. We also extended the application window to one week – without a limit on the total application numbers. 

The impact

The campaign launched to 285 pieces of editorial coverage including BBC, ITV and nine national newspapers elevating awareness of driver roles as a career. On the day of launch, the application page received more views than the timetable page – an unprecedented event. 

The campaign sparked conversation across every social platform, with people commending Avanti West Coast on such an inspiring piece of work and sharing fond anecdotes from those who had worked with Karen in the past. It also led to dozens of schools contacting Avanti, and asking them to come in and talk about careers in rail, thus inspiring the next generation of drivers.  

Importantly the campaign led to a 20% uplift in consideration of train driving as a career option amongst women and a four fold increase in the number of female applicants.   

Following an overwhelmingly positive reception across the industry, the mural has become a permanent fixture at Euston Station,  and was further immortalized when it became the answer to a question on University Challenge over Christmas 2023.