Sue Coles

Operations Manager

"My job as an Operations Manager is varied, I wear many hats. I manage staff attendance, training and welfare, customer requests and changes, Locomotive logistics, rostering, pay and safety. Every day there is a new challenge, meeting customers and watching my area grow gives me the passion to come to work every day. "

Any career advice?

My journey shows that university isn’t the only way you can achieve your target, there are opportunities out there if you work hard and are willing to listen to others. Apprenticeships over the years had been treated with distain and the university route is often the only option taught in schools. The stigma needs to change. It gives you valuable skills and life experience better than any textbook. I would recommend an apprenticeship to anyone. Enjoy what you do.


I didn’t enjoy my school years, as I’m far from academic, the focus was on exams and results and I just switched off. As a kid I used to find myself taking things apart, plugs, watches and rebuilding, always leaving parts left out. I wasn’t encouraged to study I was just left to get on with it. Parents in those days didn’t attend parents evening or assist with homework as they were busy working. I had no idea what career path I wanted to go down. College or university wasn’t an option as I came from the generation as soon as you leave work you got a job. I left school and within a week attended a job fair, submitted several applications for apprenticeships, all in the Engineering sector.

Into work

I had a few interviews with a few companies, British Rail being one of them. They offered me a place on the Rail Training scheme for a year as their apprenticeship intake was full. I took the opportunity as the course allowed me to work in all sectors and then I could choose what apprenticeship I wanted next year.

Training and qualifications

I started my apprenticeship in 1990, had to move away for a year, which at 17 was a bit scary. I completed the 4 year course and qualified as an Electrician, attending College throughout and then after the apprenticeship carried on to complete my HNC in Electrical Engineering.

Outside of work

I worked as an Electrician for 22 years working shifts and weekends repairing and rewiring locomotives. I then transferred companies and became a Manager, managing wagon maintenance at a steel terminal and now as the Operations Manager for Wales. I have had numerous opportunities to study for a degree, but don’t feel I would benefit from it. My experience and skills have been learnt through doing the jobs myself and learning hands on. The management of staff and interaction has been learnt through conversations and situations I’ve experienced, rather than taught in the classroom.