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Insights Flexible working won't hold you back in our rail practice. Here's why

Michelle is our North West & Central (NW&C) Signalling Design Team Leader and an associate with the Institution of Railway Signal Engineers (IRSE). She has over 20 years of experience in the rail industry across signalling design, including route relay interlocking (RRI), Solid State Interlocking (SSI) and mechanical disciplines.

As well as Line and Design Management of the NW&C Signalling team, Michelle is an approved Network Rail Signalling Design "Contractors Responsible Engineer" (CRE). Here's how she's been thriving while bringing her expertise across numerous Atkins-Central Railway Systems Alliance (CRSA) projects in the UK.

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What does "a day in the life" look like for you at Atkins-CRSA?

My work includes project delivery, team development, recruitment, staff competency and training, and I also support future project opportunities.

Day to day, I'm responsible for the Atkins alliance NW&C signalling team. Our expertise includes safety, signalling, overhead line equipment (OLE), electrification and plant systems (E&P) and track. We bring all this knowledge together to work as one multidisciplinary team.

So, a typical day for me could include project meetings, technical reviews and liaising with the Atkins-CRSA signalling team to ensure we have enough resources to deliver the projects in our work bank.

Please tell us a little about the projects you're currently working on.

Our team is working on several point renewal projects. (Points are the movable sections of the tracks.) We're also delivering larger CRSA enhancement projects that draw extra resources from Atkins' wider signalling practice and our Global Design Centre in India.

Watford is currently one of my team's main projects. We're renewing eight point-ends and installing a new crossover. The work aims to provide the station with a turn-back facility at Platform 6—creating faster, more efficient routes for commuters.

Outside of this work stream, I'm also starting to get more involved in the Crewe Line Speed Enhancement and Diversionary project.

What are some things you enjoy about working as part of Atkins-CRSA?

In the Atkins alliance, we do everything on projects at a smaller scale, so I've found I get a lot more exposure to the processes, working alongside other fields. Building my understanding of different disciplines and improving my overall understanding of the railway environment has been my greatest learning experience.

Atkins-CRSA has designed our organizational structures to actively promote integrated working. As well as me, my line manager is in charge of other technical discipline leads, so because we all share a common framework, we really are one team. We also collaborate with our construction and assurance colleagues in the broader CRSA, all working together as one team to deliver our projects successfully.

"Working in a truly multidisciplinary team leads to improved collaborative working and allows for the continued development and broadening knowledge of the overall railway industry."

What kind of support do colleagues inside Atkins offer each other?

Everyone's approachable. There's no such thing as, "you can't go to that person as they're too senior." It's definitely very open. For example, a graduate could go to speak to a senior director—that wouldn't ever be a problem inside Atkins-CRSA. We all do what we need to do to get the job done. Senior management holds a meeting once a month where they invite everybody to come along to participate.

Is mentorship important to you?

I currently lead a team of signalling engineers across multiple projects, and as part of that, I do some mentoring across the team. Over the last year, I've worked closely with a signalling principles designer to help her achieve CRE competency. It's fantastic for her, as now she can sign off technical reviews on her projects!

I'm also an approved IRSE Workplace/Competence Assessor and Internal Verifier, so I assess and help others obtain their design licences via the institute.

How are you engineering better for the planet and its people?

When producing specifications for projects in signalling design, we always consider environmental issues. For example, we look at reducing cable runs, reusing redundant equipment and minimizing material use. Overall, if we can increase the frequency and reliability of the train network, we can reduce the need for road vehicle journeys.

What's it like being a woman at Atkins?

The organization is a truly inclusive and equal opportunities environment. I'm proud to be a woman in engineering and hope to inspire more women to enter engineering and encourage younger female colleagues to work their way up.

How does Atkins maintain diversity and inclusion daily?

I'm an active member of the Atkins-CRSA ED&I committee. We've reached out to the various Atkins ED&I networks to help us increase our understanding of issues for women, people of colour, the LGBTQ+community, parents, faith groups and those with disabilities or neurodiversity. Over the last few months, a different ED&I network has delivered a talk via teams. Our last one was about neurodiversity and the best way to support neurodiverse people through our recruitment process.

How does flexible working help you make the most of your life outside of work?

My children are everything outside of work. They are eight and five years old and keep me extremely busy. There are always different activities to attend, which I must fit around my working week, ensuring I still deliver my projects. Atkins-CRSA makes it possible for me to do that in an environment where it's okay and acceptable.

Atkins-CRSA has been very encouraging about my workload. I work from my home office, Tuesdays to Fridays, with Monday off, which hasn't hindered any development or progression opportunities. My flexible work style has never been an issue when I've gone for promotions. We're all about delivery, and as long I deliver, that's the main thing.

"Being trusted and listened to leads to greater ownership of project delivery and feeling empowered to make decisions."

How do you work from home and still feel part of the team?

Over the last few years, we've really leaned into digital ways of working because of Covid. We do everything on the computer now. Some of that's been positive because it doesn't matter where we are in the country, everyone is easily contactable. Getting people together has been a lot easier via teams. Before, I didn't have as much to do with my colleagues outside of the home office. Now, I speak to colleagues in Glasgow, York or India on a daily basis.

"Working for Atkins-CRSA has afforded me excellent career development opportunities, as senior management are very supportive of providing opportunities to progress my knowledge and career."

What is your career goal for the next five years, and how are you hoping to achieve it?

I'm passionate about looking after my growing team and seeing them develop. It makes me very happy. I've enjoyed the opportunities I've had at the Atkins alliance, and I'm excited to see how things develop further. I want to continue expanding my multidisciplinary knowledge and explore engineering management opportunities within Atkins-CRSA.

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