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Commercial Skills


Caitlin Gent

Caitlin Gent

"There was so much covered in just two days. This course is ideal for engineers who haven’t really had the opportunity to work with commercial managers or commercial engineers."

Verified by an engineer

When Caitlin, now 25, left school, she knew she didn’t want to go to university. Her interest in engineering had been sparked in her teens when she took an engineering module in the Sea Cadets and she was on a path to join the Royal Navy as a weapons engineer – until a change of heart prompted her to consider the railway industry. A fortuitous meeting with recruiter secured her an interview with the Fleet Engineering team at TransPennine Express and this was followed by an apprenticeship. She completed an Electrical and Electronics Engineering apprenticeship at Preston College, a Systems Engineering apprenticeship at the National College for High Speed Rail and an HNC in Electrical Engineering at Wigan and Leigh College.

Caitlin’s primary responsibility is managing fuel supplies for the diesel multiple unit fleet, as well as monitoring electricity usage of the electrical multiple unit fleet. Industrial action on the network in 2022 and 2023 made keeping track of diesel fuel levels more complicated. “We weren’t running as many trains as expected and they weren’t being returned to planned locations,” explains Caitlin. “This made fuel usage and knowing where it was going to be taken from unpredictable.” Despite changes due to a government take-over of the day-to-day running of TransPennine Express, Caitlin will remain in her role.


Why the Commercial Skills course?

“We operate diesel, electric and bimodal fleets but we don’t own them; we lease them,” explains Caitlin. “One day, I want to be responsible for negotiating these rolling stock leases and contracts, and become more involved in the commercial operation. I am still quite new to my role and in the development phase, and I am keen to learn more. That’s what appealed about the Commercial Skills course.

“I am comfortable with the engineering aspects of what I do but I am new to the commercial side of operations and had no previous experience. I need to learn more and feel comfortable. I did some research and found the course, and I knew the quality would be very good. My manager had taken the course previously and really recommended it. I felt I was going to walk away from the course having learned a lot and feeling refreshed.”

What was your experience of the course?

“I was nervous beforehand and didn’t know what to expect. I am not a member of the IMechE and was worried other attendees would have 20 years more experience than me. I made sure I got there early and spent a bit of time chatting to the instructor. I was put at my ease straightaway. That was brilliant. I shouldn’t have worried about it!

“There were about 12 of us on the course and everyone was really nice. Plus, there wasn't too much of an age or experience gap – maybe 10 years at most. There was just myself from rail and quite a few people from the wind industry. The trainer was very good at drawing everybody in and using examples from their industry. It felt like we were all addressed.

“We looked at case studies, worked on tasks in pairs and then made presentations. I'm quite shy and I really don’t like doing presentations, but I know I will have to do them in my future role, so that was really useful.

“We also looked at various analysis tools: SWOT, PESTLE and Lewin’s Force Field, for example. That was really interesting. Some people bought along problems they were facing at work and I could see they really benefited. And if they didn’t fully understand, they were able to come back and ask for more advice. It was very positive to see people take advantage of that opportunity.”

What are the key reasons someone should attend Commercial Skills course?

1 “It was important for me to learn about different business analysis tools. That was hugely beneficial for me.”

2 “You’ll learn the different terminologies used in the commercial world. We were shown a Dragon's Den video of someone who had no idea about gross profit. I was sitting there, thinking: ‘I never want to be in that lady's position.’”

3 “The real-life case studies are so useful. These are situations where big companies had a problem, the mistakes they made, how they should have reacted or could have done better – and how the course they chose ended up costing them millions of pounds or damaged their reputation. It puts things into perspective.”

What’s been the impact?

“When I got back to work, I sat down with my manager and we compared our experiences of the course. That was actually nice to do – he was very happy with the quality of content and the way my course had been delivered.

“I now have a much firmer grip on the commercial side of my work. It has given me a useful insight into how projects originally started here and how they’ve developed to where they are now. We have some long-standing relationships and contracts that are embedded in the business. There are others that are new and have teething problems. The course has helped me think about all these contracts and which analysis tools that would be useful in the future when it comes to renegotiating.

“Finance is also covered, which I hadn’t realised from the course notes. That was a bonus. There was so much covered in just two days. This course is ideal for engineers who haven’t really had the opportunity to work with commercial managers or commercial engineers. It’s important to understand the impact engineers can have on commercial decisions and contract negotiations.

“And the course has made me a lot more financially and commercially aware in my home life. It’s good to have acquired some negotiation skills – I hope to buy a property one day and it will be useful then!”

Three pieces of advice you’d give future attendees

1 “Get stuck in! Put yourself out there and take part in the activities. It is a long two days and it's hard but just enjoy it.”

2 “Don’t be afraid to ask questions – there really is no such thing as asking too many silly questions on the course.”

3 “Most importantly, make a note of the three key things that stood out for you and then make a conscious effort to apply them in your job.”

What’s next?

“I don’t want to go back to full-time study as I want to focus on my role, but I enjoy doing two-day courses like this one. There is so much to learn about the commercial side of what we do, so I have asked my manager if I can go on further courses about finance. I deal with purchase orders, invoices and so on, so finance is important part of my role. I want to understand all aspects of this side of the business.”

Commercial Skills

  • Duration:
    2 days
  • Location:
  • CPD Hours:
  • UK-Spec:
    C, D, E