Adam Haigh has worked his way to the upper echelons of the rail industry in just 15 years; from an apprenticeship in 2005 to his current position as Managing Director of UK Rail Engineering. In this interview, he talks about the sacrifices necessary to make it to the top in his industry, and why engineers of old were rock stars.
How did you end up sitting where you are today?
Back in 2005 newly formed Network Rail created the modern apprenticeship scheme. The scheme was designed to surplus the natural loss of talent when employees retired and moved onto pastures new.
It was the first year they had taken-on apprentices, and there were pathways in three fields: Track, Signal and Telecoms, and Electrification and Plant. I was a candidate within the track category.
What gets you excited about your industry?
The railway industry or family as we know it is incredibly vast and reaches out to all corners of the UK. To know that there is currently more work being undertaken on a day to day basis than there was at the time of initial construction shows the test of time for the railway industry.
The fact that projects like Crossrail, the Transpennine Express and HS2 are being undertaken only serves to demonstrate how essential railways are in the UK. Helping people get to their destinations, on time with no disruption is what it's all about.
What's the best advice anyone ever gave you?
The best advice given to me was "Never be dishonest, always tell the truth". People are way more likely to help you out in these circumstances.
The best advice I can give to others is: never give up. Do not stop moving forward. No matter how small the step may be, or how many times you get pushed back, you will succeed if you keep trying! Don't; well on the past or worry about making mistakes, we're all human, it's how we learn and grow that counts.
What, or who inspires you?
When I look at traditional, modern methods of working within construction, the large equipment we use to construct are pieces of art in their own right.
When we look back to the start of the industrial revolution, how they achieved such magnificent builds from George Stevenson's Rocket to the Brooklyn Bridge with manual labour and basic equipment amazes me. Engineers back in the day were modern-day rock stars; they just didn't know it!
How do you keep up to speed with what's happening in the industry?
I'm currently a member of the PWI (Permanent Way Institution) and am working towards becoming chartered. I attend annual events for the PWI, which include presentations from cross-discipline speakers working on various projects, both big and small.
In addition to my work with the PWI, I take part in working groups to create new working standards with senior engineering figures within the railway fraternity.
What was the most challenging project or assignment you've worked on?
Every project is challenging to deliver, no matter its size or complexity. It requires a massive amount of long term planning, communication, collaborative working from companies/disciplines and most importantly, a good dose of humour.
If you could start your life again, what would you do differently?
Not join the railway as a trade!
All joking aside the railway is a tough industry to make it in. To be dedicated to progressing, you have to give up a part of your life to get the experience; unfortunately, that part of your life is the social aspect. This is because a lot of the work undertaken is of a weekend and bank holidays. That means when family and friends are partying; you're putting on oranges and heading out the door to work - often in harsh weather conditions.
If, like me, you've spent time contracting or working on big projects, you also spend an awful lot of time away from home.
You finish work today and step outside the office to find a lottery ticket that ends up winning $10 million. What would you do?
I would have my round the world trip and help some less fortunate people, but I would take an opportunity to strengthen and grow my business and investing in more staff would be my main agenda.
How do you switch off after a day at work?
Most of my family call me the guy with too many hobbies and never stick to one thing, jack of all trades, master of none!
I play the piano, ride motorbikes, snowboard and ski, scuba dive, and like to go to the gym to keep fit. I also enjoy travelling with my partner when COVID is not an issue, and I'm a keen animal lover (mostly dogs).
If you had one wish for the future of your industry, what would it be?
Not so much for the industry, more about the approach to our modern life. I feel we, as a generation, expect a lot for minimal input.
Take the time to do your job correctly rather than rushing would be my comment for employees. For managers and people sitting important roles: listen to your staff, they are your eyes and ears, so support them and ensure they have adequate training to do their job in the first place.
How should people connect with you?