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Guide to working with a Rail Recruitment Agency

Written by

Josh Bromage-Smith

Date posted

4 July, 2019

Rail careers can be extremely rewarding. There are excellent progression opportunities, high demand for skilled workers, and you can find rail jobs in a range of locations with a variety of employers.

Rail recruitment agencies specialise in supplying workers to the rail industry. Each week, thousands of workers go out to work through rail recruitment agencies. Working with a rail agency is a great way to move forward with your career, and in this guide, we will give an overview on how working with a rail agency works, what is expected of workers, and give some tips on how to reach your potential.

Guide contents:

Why rail recruitment agencies are necessary?

Why work with a recruitment agency?

What are some common roles available?

How do you register with a rail agency?

Tips on working with a rail agency


Why are rail recruitment agencies necessary?


Infographic stating that in 2016 the UK rails sector accounted for over 225,000 jobs.


The nature of the rail industry means that rail employers rely on recruitment agencies to source a large number of workers. Without rail recruitment agencies, rail employers would struggle to get the required resources to finish projects on time and to budget. Below are some of the reasons employers need agencies to help find workers:

1. The volume of workers required

Some rail projects require a huge amount of staff to work at any one time. Some rail employers may be unable to hire this many staff directly, and so they work with agencies. This way, rail companies can focus their efforts on planning and completing works, rather than on recruiting staff.

2. Remote locations and projects

The rail network spans across the whole country, including some very remote locations. Rail employers may struggle to find enough workers in some places, so they rely on agencies to bring in staff from other areas.

3. Constantly-changing requirements

Large-scale projects change constantly over time, and the resources required are no different. If a project requires a major uplift in workers, agencies can cater for this, meaning that projects stay on track. If rail employers recruited workers directly, they would be less able to react quickly to these changes.

4. Skills shortages

An issue facing many industries is a shortage of valued skills within the workforce. Good rail recruitment agencies will have plenty of skilled workers on the books and can provide these workers to employers at short notice.

Ultimately, staff can be hard to find and rail recruitment agencies are good at what they do. By using agencies, rail employers don’t have to invest huge amounts into an in-house recruitment operation.

What does this mean for workers?

This all means that registering and going out to work through a rail agency is a great option for many people. By working with an agency, you can be sure that work is going to be available for the right candidates, and you will have the opportunity to work on many different projects all over the country. To find out more about the benefits of working through a rail agency, read through the next section...


Infographic showing the 3.3 billion expenditure from Network Rail in 2018 and the annual gva contributed by the Rail industry.

Why work with a rail recruitment agency?

There are lots of benefits to working with a rail agency. As with anything though, there are two sides to the coin, and there can be downsides as well. It is mostly dependant on your circumstances and preferences. If you can handle the challenging aspects, the benefits can be well worth it.


Rail jobs through an agency allow you to work flexibly, taking up work as and when you want it. Rail agencies will have temporary, contract and permanent rail jobs available, and it’s up to you what you want to go for. Many workers may end up working on a single project from day one right through to completion, whereas others may prefer to work on a short-term basis during critical times like weekends and bank holidays.

This means you can organise your career to fit around your life. If you want to take a break from work to spend time at home, then you can do so. Likewise, if you want to earn as much as possible, a rail agency will have the work available.

The downside - Even though you may be able to take up longer-term contract positions, some people prefer to opt for rail jobs with more stability and more consistent hours.


If you're open to travelling, rail jobs can take you all over the country. From the centre of London and other major cities to more remote and rural areas. If travelling around and seeing different areas of the country appeals to you, then working with a rail agency would make sense.

The downside - Frequently travelling and moving locations can be disruptive and won’t work for everyone. However not all workers will be affected by this.

Training & Development

If you are looking to enhance your career, become more qualified and rise higher in the industry, a good agency will support you in reaching your goals. By working closely with your agency and expert recruitment consultants, you can identify areas for development and plan out a way to develop your career. If you prove yourself to be reliable and a high-quality candidate, an agency may even sponsor you to carry out further training.

There are many examples where Coyle has funded further training for candidates, to allow them to secure a more senior position. In some cases, this is so the worker is qualified to take up a permanent position with a rail employer.

Rail employers often offer excellent training and development programmes for staff. However, if you choose this route, you miss out on the other benefits of working with an agency.

Good Pay Rates

The main factor for a large percentage of agency rail workers is that pay rates can be very high. Particularly for work at critical times, such as holidays, and for last-minute shifts.

Rail employers expect to pay a premium if they need workers at late notice, and this premium is passed on to workers in their wages. Agency rail workers can also make some serious money at certain times of the year, like over Christmas.

The downside - Some people may want to spend holidays with family rather than at work. This is a choice that workers need to make for themselves, but the opportunity to earn much more than at other times of the year is there.


What rail jobs are available through rail recruitment agencies?

A very wide range of rail jobs are available through rail recruitment agencies, at many different levels of seniority. At all levels, agencies may have contract and permanent positions available, so you will have options.

Rail jobs for trainees and apprentices

Due to skills shortages and an ageing workforce, there is a focus on bringing new people into the rail industry. By bringing in new people and giving them relevant skills, the future of the industry is protected.

Not all agencies will work with trainees and apprentices, but there are some exceptions to this. For example, earlier this year, Coyle employed a set of groundwork apprentices to work on the rail, in partnership with Balfour Beatty.

However, an agency is far more likely to work with a candidate who at the very least have completed a PTS course and have a valid Sentinel card.

Rail jobs for qualified workers

If you are qualified and currently work in the rail industry, there is a high chance that you will find work through a rail agency. Rail recruitment agencies are tasked with sourcing a wide variety of staff for different roles.

Some rail agencies may specialise in specific areas, so make sure you look into this before registering. Below are just some of the areas that Coyle specialise in…

  • Civils
  • Signalling & Telecoms
  • Engineering
  • Project Management
  • Design

How to register with a rail agency

Before going out to work with an agency, you must first become registered and satisfy all compliance criteria. This is a vital step in the process, and doing this incorrectly can delay the recruitment process and possibly cause issues with payment.

If you find an agency you would like to register with, the best thing to do is call them up and ask to speak to whoever deals with candidate registrations. Alternatively, with Coyle, you can quick-register online, and someone will be in touch to talk with you in more detail - (LINK).

The agency will then help you through the registration process. They will require a number of documents to prove you are eligible to work in the UK, as well as to confirm you are qualified to work. These docs may include:

  • A valid passport
  • A valid sentinel card and card number
  • Info on any additional tickets
  • Any necessary Visa information

A face-to-face interview is also required, to double-check that candidates have the required knowledge and are competent enough to work.

Another part of the registration process is supplying your agency with your payment details. There are a number of ways in which temporary or contract workers can be paid by an agency:

Paid via PAYE - Candidates are a direct employee of the agency and all income tax and national insurance contributions are deducted from your wages.

Paid via a Limited Company - If a candidate has set up a limited company, they invoice the agency for their services. It is then up to the candidate to pay all relevant tax.

Paid via an Umbrella Company - Umbrella companies employ agency contractors and pay them directly, deducting tax and national insurance, also taking an umbrella fee.

Coyle offers all of the above payment options, but it is up to the candidate to decide which works best for them. An agency is unable to give guidance on which method to choose.

Once you have been registered, you will receive information on your first assignment from your contact at your agency. They should make sure you have all the information you need, but if you have any doubts whatsoever, make sure you make contact and get any issues sorted.

Tips for working with a rail agency

Registering with a good agency can be a great opportunity to get ongoing work and to progress in your career. However, you must do your best to build a healthy working relationship with your agency. Likewise, agency staff should make sure that candidates are treated fairly and are kept happy. Below are some tips for working with a rail agency. Following these will make the whole process easier in the long run.

1. Be organised

The more organised you are, the better your experience of working with an agency will be. For example, being organised during the registration process can make it go much quicker for all parties. If you are seen as an easy candidate to deal with, who can respond to requests quickly, you may become a sub-conscious favourite of recruiters.

2. Push yourself and aim to grow

Have you thought about how you want to develop your career? Make sure you discuss this with your agency contact. If you let them know you’re keen to progress, they will know you as a serious worker who wants to do well. This can open up opportunities that might not have been there if you didn’t share your goals.

3. Let your agency know your availability

If you know you're going to be available for a certain time, make sure you let your agency know. An accurate view of a candidate’s availability will be extremely helpful to agency staff. You are more likely to be at the front of a consultant or resourcer’s mind and could get a greater choice of work as a result.

4. Build a relationship with agency staff

Make friends with the people who work at your agency. Having a good relationship with agency staff will only benefit you. It might mean that they are quicker to help you if you have any issues and will work harder to make sure you’re happy.

5. Be honest and up-front

If something goes wrong, if you cannot make an assignment, if you are sick and can’t work - tell your agency about it as soon as you can. Not everything goes to plan, and your agency contact will appreciate it if you’re honest about any issues you’re having.

6. Be prepared to take on different types of work

Agencies will have many different shifts available, so if you want to make the most of working with a rail agency, be open to different types of work. If you are open to working civils, P-way and general operative shifts, you will have more opportunities to earn.

7. Make friends with other workers

Make an effort to get to know and become friends with the people you're working with. Not only will this mean you are likely to be more satisfied with your job, but you can also buddy up with each other to save on transport costs.

Hopefully, you will find these tips useful. We’d love to hear back from rail workers, so if you have any tips of your own that you think we should add, please let us know!

If you have any further questions about working in the rail industry, get in touch with Coyle today.

Click here to find out more about rail jobs with Coyle.

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