“It's a challenging job market out there so it's key you get the best out of your time at university”
– Clare Burles
Gaining both undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications at the University of Derby gave Clare Burles the ideal platform for a high-profile HR career in the rail industry.
Having graduated from the BA (Hons) Business Studies in 2005, Clare went on to study for a Masters in Human Resource Management on a part-time basis while advancing her career.
Today she is HR Director of long-distance UK train operator East Midlands Trains. Part of the Stagecoach Group Plc, East Midlands Trains carries 24 million passengers per year and delivers 470 train services per day.
Clare’s role is twofold: leading the people agenda in a business with just over 2,000 employees and looking after the interests of the company, making key decisions along with other board members. She is also an ambassador for encouraging more women to join the rail industry.
As HR Director for the last three years, Clare says she has harnessed all the skills and knowledge she developed during her time at the University of Derby.
She chose her undergraduate degree because she wanted to gain a broad understanding of many aspects of the business world, from HR to marketing, economics to accounting. “It was great to have that knowledge when I started my working life and it has helped my throughout my career to date. Even now, I still occasionally consult my text books if I want to refresh my knowledge on a particular area!”
It was during her placement year in the rail industry that Clare decided on her future career direction. She explains: “It gave me a fantastic insight into how a business operated and I very quickly decided that a career in HR was something I wished to pursue after completing my studies.
“Obtaining that valuable work experience during my course ultimately led to me securing employment in the transport sector; I made some great contacts and without that introduction to the industry I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
After graduating, Clare went on to study part-time for her Masters in HRM, relishing the combination of academic challenge and practical focus through case studies, problem-solving tasks, projects and team work. She admits: “I can’t say it was easy juggling a part-time course with a full-time job but it was definitely worth the effort. The lecturers were great and very understanding about the challenges of working life.”
She believes that the Masters added real value to her role at that time as an HR Manager, enabling her to contribute to the development of the company's people policies and procedures and also to gain insight into the theories surrounding HR. One particular benefit was sharing best practice and discussing the practical application of the theories with other HR professionals on the course.
Of her current job, she comments: “It's clichéd but there isn't really a ‘typical’ day as a HR Director. One day I might be talking to a group of managers about their role as leaders or making a collective decision on a key timetable change. The next day I may be working with our trade unions on a tricky pay negotiation or deciding on budgets for the year ahead. I enjoy the variety of the work I do, I work with great people and no two days are ever the same!”
As the youngest and only female member of the East Midlands Trains Board, Clare has first-hand experience of the important role women can play on executive teams. She is passionate about making rail a more attractive career option for aspiring females and is part of the industry’s ‘Women in Rail’ steering group.
On a corporate level, she values her continuing links with the University because of the quality of the graduates it produces. “It is fantastic that, as a former student, I now have connections with the University which helps ensure we can attract the best future talent to our organisation.”
Clare concludes that she would thoroughly recommend the University of Derby as a place to study, full or part time. “I value the learning and experience which I gained during my time at Derby and I now have one of my own team undertaking her CIPD qualification at the University this year!”