Scottish Apprenticeship Week – Kirstin RiddellKirstin was one of Lothian's first ever female Engineering Apprentices

Kirstin Riddell crashed through the gender barrier within Lothian’s Engineering Department. Joining nine years ago as one of the company’s first female Apprentice Engineers, Kirstin has shown the way for more girls and young women to follow their passion for engineering and mechanics, and becoming Lothian apprentices.

Kirstin completed her four years of training under the guidance of Lothian’s Depot Engineers and the vastly experienced time-served engineers within Lothian’s engineering workshops. Taking the natural step and becoming a full-time shift mechanic at Lothian, Kirstin believes the training she was given stood her in good stead for her career: “It was easy to transition from my apprenticeship into the full-time role.

“The confidence and knowledge I’d picked up during my training made it quite a natural pathway to just get on with it and develop a career here at Lothian.”

Lothian’s apprentice programme is extremely well-renowned across the country. Every year Lothian attracts hundreds of applicants from young hopefuls eager to join the award-winning business. Lothian also brings on a number of Mature Apprentices each year too, offering a change in career for anyone who has already started out.

Ironically, Kirstin joined the business as a young apprentice, however it still signalled a change in direction for her. She had just dropped out of university and was in need of a new challenge. Despite continuing to harbour dreams of becoming a police officer, Kirstin saw an advert for Lothian’s Apprentice scheme and thought, ‘Why not?’

Kirstin believes there’s a few reasons why more women and girls hadn’t put themselves forward for the scheme.

“Even if you don’t know a lot about Engineering, you have an idea that it’ll be a dirty job, wearing overalls that get covered in oil and the likes. There’s also a lot of heavy lifting involved,” she said.

“Of course, it’s a male-dominated industry too, but I had begun to develop a real passion for mechanics and fixing things, so decided to give it a go.”

Another major plus point for Lothian’s apprentice scheme, is the on-the-job training it affords its apprentices. Although there is collaboration with GTG, providing training and some classroom-based work for the team, it is a predominately practical apprenticeship, where the learning is done in-house.

For Kirstin, this is exactly what she was looking for, especially having dropped out of further education prior to joining.

“The apprenticeship being more hands-on benefitted me a huge amount,” she said.

“You can also earn while you learn here too, so you can throw yourself into gaining your qualifications while earning good money.”

Kirstin felt a degree of added pressure on herself, which she concedes she placed on herself initially.

“You definitely think that people believe you aren’t good enough or that you shouldn’t be here in your overalls covered in oil. It was another way to motivate myself though, I knew I wanted to do this, so proving everyone wrong would be another accomplishment at the end of my training.

The training is very involved from day one for the trainees, and the live-garage element adds a degree of pressure onto those on the course. Their efforts actually play a role in the day-to-day delivery of Lothian’s commitment to provide a safe, reliable public transport service for over 2 million customers per week.

Kirstin thrived under the pressure, and now in her current role as a Street Fitter, she still gets to feel that sense of accomplishment when she sees a vehicle she has worked on in service.

“Now, I attend broken-down buses and get them going again,” she said proudly. ”When you’re able to start a bus that has stopped it is a really good feeling. Especially if you are at a bus stop and see people queuing up for the bus, it’s really cool to be able to fix the bus and say to them ‘Here’s your bus ready for you!’”

“While I was serving my time, knowing that you’d helped service a bus and then seeing it out on the roads made you feel quite proud. You can’t get that feeling anywhere else.”

Lothian champions its apprentices whenever the business gets the chance. This adds a further element to the apprenticeship for the trainees, testing their ability to be on camera, discussing their training and recommending the scheme to the next group of apprentices. Kirstin is no stranger to Lothian’s website and social media channels, and believes that has enhanced her time at the business too.

“It helped build my confidence, having been involved on camera a few times and featured on the social media channels. I’ve even had my face plastered on the noticeboards across each depot!” she said.

“It was daunting at first, but I’m always happy to tell my story and hopefully encourage more girls into the field.”

Her encouragement worked, too. Since Kirstin joined the business, another three girls signed up to Lothian’s apprenticeship programme, with two currently in training. Kirstin allows herself some credit for this and hopes that even more girls join the industry in the future.

“I would imagine I had a small part to play, having gone through my training and proved that a career in Engineering is possible for girls here at Lothian,” she said. “It was a very lonely place for a girl when I started, but now we’re getting there and hopefully we can all inspire more girls to join.”

The Lothian apprenticeship is an exciting pathway to a challenging but ultimately rewarding, sustainable career. As the business moves forward in its decarbonisation journey, the apprentice scheme will have to adapt to reflect the influx of electric and zero-emission vehicles being rolled out across Edinburgh in the future. Kirstin is positive that this will encourage even more girls to don their overalls.

“It will make the scheme more desirable for young girls, as more electric training will take aware some of the dirtier elements of the job.”

She added: “We also probably won’t be working with tools that are as heavy, as technology improves day-by-day. It’s a really exciting time to sign up!”

Join Lothian's Apprenticeship Programme!

Applications are now open to join Lothian’s award-winning engineering team on its apprenticeship programme. The deadline to apply is Friday 29 March 2024. Details of the two apprenticeship types available can be found on our Apprenticeship page.