People person

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The first batch of electric buses at Waterloo are maintained by BYD, but the vehicles that have gone into Camberwell recently are looked after in-house. One of Go-Ahead London’s BYD ADL Enviro200EV single deckers, is seen on route 153 to Moorgate. KRIS LAKE

Debbie Lambshead, Human Resources Manager at Go-Ahead London, explains her role to Jade Smith and how the operator is looking after its employees

Imet Debbie Lambshead, HR Manager at Go-Ahead London at the operator’s head office in Merton, where she is based.

Debbie has been in the industry for 15 years, working across three different bus companies: FirstGroup, Tower Transit and now Go-Ahead. She began there last March and said that as Go-Ahead is the biggest operator in London, it is proving to be a big challenge.

“I’m thoroughly enjoying it – it is a wonderful company to work for,” Debbie said. “In the bus industry it’s the people that make the business what it is and they always have time for you.

“I’ve spent a lot of time working in Human Resources and the highlights are the people, tackling a huge variety of topics and having varying days. My favourite aspect is witnessing people develop through the business. As an industry we like to promote from within because to understand the driving aspect of the job is invaluable.”

Developing staff

Debbie said that succession planning within Go-Ahead is another challenge.

“It is important for us to grow our home talent as it’s a difficult market to recruit in,” she said. “If a driver has previously worked for a lot of other bus companies there’s usually a reason why you wouldn’t want to recruit them, but if they’re loyal you won’t necessarily be able to entice them away from a different operator.

“With operating managers the same rules apply: they move around amongst the businesses, so somebody somewhere will know if they’re someone you would want to employ.

“Growing our own talent is the best way forward. The challenge will be keeping them. For example, if we advertise internally for the position of general manager there may be three or four strong candidates and only one of them will get the position. How do I keep the others motivated to stay with us, rather than moving on to a different operator?

“To combat this we provide them with opportunities to show their skills, for example, with relief managers. We may appoint one general manager, but if we can say to another strong candidate we want them to cover several general managers for holidays, then they get the chance to show their skillset. They provide holiday cover for a couple of weeks where they have plenty of help and support.

“It allows them to learn a skill and see if it’s the job for them, as can we. We’re looking at implementing it across the board with assistant operating managers and engineering managers, for example.

“We’ve also taken ex-army people on because with a bit of creativity, we can apply the skills and experience they’ve learned in a different sector to the bus business. The traditional route doesn’t have to be the only way in.” [wlm_nonmember][…]

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[/wlm_nonmember] [wlm_ismember] John Trayner, Managing Director of Go-Ahead London, started his career as an engineering apprentice in 1975. Most of the Directors have taken that route: Richard Harrington, Engineering Director, and David Cutts, Operations Director, are two more examples.

Debbie Lambshead, Human Resources Manager at Go-Ahead London, has been in the bus industry for 15 years. JADE SMITH

Apprentices and graduates

Go-Ahead’s engineering apprenticeship is now four years long with a year focusing on electrical. Eleven engineering apprentices were recruited last year, with a similar number joining each year. At the end of the four years, providing they’ve achieved everything they need to, Go-Ahead offers them a position. Debbie said that the retention rate is excellent, and a lot work their way up into managerial positions.

Recruiting apprentices is important to ensure the operator has the necessary staff in the future. Stores apprentices have started to be recruited as well, as that’s another area that has skills shortages. One stores apprentice is with Go-Ahead at the moment, with the aim to get one in each year.

“We’re always going to need engineers and stores staff, even if we go driverless,” Debbie explained. “The bus industry has delivered electric vehicles, hybrids and alternative fuels, so we’re ahead of other industries in that regard. As the technology is changing and there’s more focus on electric vehicles, it’s not so much about getting your hands dirty under an engine anymore. It’s more focused on diagnostics and understanding that technology. That should prove to be a benefit to us in terms of recruiting going forward.

“The first batch of electric buses at Waterloo are maintained by BYD, but the vehicles that have gone into Camberwell recently are looked after in-house. We’ve not been frightened by the technology and left it to the manufacturer – we’re training our own people to meet the challenges.”

The Group operates a graduate training scheme and annually Go-Ahead interviews half a dozen people who are interested in working in London. This year a young man called Kyle Simmons who was working for the operator already as a bus driver expressed an interest in the scheme.

“It can be someone who has just left university or someone from within that shows the aptitude to progress,” Debbie explained. “Most people have the ambition to end up with a glass door, as that’s what the director’s offices have. That’s fantastic – I’d rather have everyone striving to be successful than no-one, because that’s the best way to grow the business.

“Our graduate programme is two years long and they see every part of the business, spending time in the training school, obtaining their PCV qualification and then driving in service for three months to get a feel for the shifts and issues that drivers face. Kyle spent some time with various departments in head office, then into operations looking at the controlling of buses. He will cover the various shifts to understand what each role entails. Head Office is a flavour of what we do centrally to support the operational business.

“We can’t afford to not do this scheme because we need that fresh blood and perspective. The programme is structured so they come out of it with the aspiration to become an assistant operating manager within one of our depots.”

Licence for London was launched at Merton depot earlier this year by the London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, alongside Val Shawcross, Deputy Mayor, Transport & Deputy Chair of Transport for London, Len McCluskey, General Secretary of Unite the Union, and local drivers

Payroll and drivers

Debbie explained that she is responsible for the HR team, which is made up of administrators and a manager. They support the business with a variety of HR issues.

In terms of payroll, there are 11 administrators and one manager who ensure the workforce is paid. This is no small task as Go-Ahead London has 6,300 members of staff on a weekly payroll of varying grades. “It is a tough job because we have over 100 pay grades and we’re relying on information from the garages about overtime and schedule changes,” Debbie said.

“The transferring of routes between operators is a large part of what I do,” Debbie continued. “We tender for a route and either retain, win or lose depending on whether we currently operate it or not. Legally the drivers on that route have the option to transfer to us if we’ve won the route or from us if we’ve lost the route.

“All the London operators have many years’ experience of TUPE and the system works really well. It needs to be seamless for the drivers to move and that they retain their current benefits. Some of them love the route they drive and have only ever driven one route. On the whole it’s a smooth process, but we do end up with an enormous number of pay grades.

“We now have the additional Licence for London as well which was launched at Merton depot, which was a great honour. The Licence for London is great – it means that a driver who’s been around for a few years who relocates can work for a different operator and not lose their years of service in terms of the pay grade they start on.”

Debbie explained that Go-Ahead London continually needs to recruit drivers, even when work is lost, as there’s always a staff turnover. The move in recent years has been to train rather than to employ existing drivers.

Going into more detail, Debbie said: “As a company we’re looking for people with the ability to drive a bus, so they are tested in a car to see their awareness. Equally we want people with good customer service and who can handle being challenged. We need to be truthful and upfront about what the job entails to ensure we recruit the right people.”

Debbie said that in terms of driverless vehicles, busways seem to be the most viable option. The Cambridgeshire Guided Busway is used by route B from Peterborough to Cambridge. Read more about it in issue 1317. ANDY IZATT

Technology improvements

Talking about what changes she has seen during her time in the industry, Debbie said improvements in technology were the most dramatic: “When I first started there wasn’t a system to tell me how many staff I employed and what demographics they were in. I had to ask payroll for that information manually.

“In the past, monitoring the buses on their routes used an old-fashioned system that wasn’t particularly reliable. A phone call would be made to someone on the road who would say what buses had recently passed them, which would then be logged in a book.

“Now, with iBus you can see exactly where all the buses are and if they’re running on time. It’s also easy to contact a specific driver about any issues.

“Technology is moving so quickly that even tomorrow it will have advanced. I’d like to have a completely paperless office and we’re not that far away from it. It’s more a habit we need to break because technology is now more reliable than paper.

“I think we’re a long way off driverless buses: trials at the moment tend to be on dedicated parts of the road so I’m unsure how driverless vehicles would share road space with conventional vehicles. Guided busways will probably be the first areas to go driverless. The Underground perhaps has more potential to go driverless and at a much faster rate than buses.

“Going cashless was a big step. A lot of people thought it wouldn’t work, but that step was taken, and I believe it was the right decision.

“Vehicle technology has naturally improved massively since I joined the industry. The electric, hydrogen fuel cell, and hybrid buses are all brilliant advancements.”

Debbie said the Employee Portal is an example of utilising technology within Go-Ahead London. Any member of staff can send a question or a request for a meeting directly to the directors. There are also forums where issues can be raised and discussed, and as all drivers have their own email address, they can be contacted if need be. All vacancies are advertised on there and all employees have their payslips sent to them electronically.

Go-Ahead’s engineering apprenticeship is now four years long with a year focusing on electrical. Eleven engineering apprentices were recruited last year, with a similar number joining each year. JADE SMITH

This year

“I’m focusing on training and development this year, targeting skills that are appropriate for our managers,” Debbie explained. “They know all day-to-day aspects of the role: we try to improve their skillset on areas they don’t cover on a regular basis.

“We recently ran a recruitment and selection skills course, providing managers with the skills to ask different types of questions during the interview process to improve their candidate selection. We can perhaps run that on an annual basis for new managers.

“Garage administrators are on the front desk at a garage and allocate drivers to routes if spare drivers need to be called in. How they allocate work that becomes available is key, because costs are involved. We will develop a talent pool for those administrators to get a succession plan in place.

“Future-proofing is important to ensure we can continue to deliver to the high standard that we do and develop people with the skills we want. Everything is online now, including recruitment, which makes it easier to track the process and send responses.”


On a final note, Debbie talked about the effect of Brexit on Go-Ahead London: “I don’t think it will have a major impact on us. Although we employ colleagues from Europe within the business, they are not a large proportion. A lot have British passports, British partners or have the right to stay here indefinitely.

“It will be interesting to see how it all pans out. We naturally offered support to those who were worried they may have problems staying here after the results were announced.

“People know we’re a good London operator to work for, so we have attracted some very talented people who tend to stay with us.”