Rail Industry Focus


‘Euston, we have a problem’

Source: RTM Apr/May 16

The CEO of the soon-to-open National College for High Speed Rail, John Evans, discusses the problems currently facing rail engineering recruitment in the UK and the need to drive forward the diversity agenda in the future.

The rail industry urgently needs to attract more young people in order to have enough engineers to build HS2, the CEO of the soon-to-open National College for High Speed Rail said in his keynote speech at iRail 2016. 

At the event, which is designed to encourage young people to think about careers in rail, John Evans reiterated the warning that rail engineering isn’t doing enough to attract more talent. 

During his presentation, which he gave the joking title ‘Euston, We Have a Problem’, Evans said: “I’d like you to leave a little bit frightened and a little bit worried.” 

New recruitment tactics 

HS2 will create over 25,000 jobs in construction and engineering, but Evans said that currently British rail doesn’t have enough talent to meet it. He added that 87,000 graduate engineers are needed every year, but in 2013, the last year for which figures are available, only 51,000 completed their course. 

“If we don’t change that, we are not going to have enough people to work on HS2. We’re going to have to bring in overseas labour,” said Evans, who was previously group HR director at First Group and has also worked in marketing and HR at Strathclyde Police, Guinness producer Diageo and British Airways. 

He stated that engineering needed a new image and recruitment tactics to show the full diversity of engineering work in order to appeal to a new generation, adding: “The title engineering doesn’t do your profession justice. We need to present the human side of engineering to Millennials and Generation Z.” 

Evans said that HS2 will generate new technology and new opportunities because of the unprecedented scale of the contract. Phase 1 of the project, from Euston to Birmingham, will be 230km long, with 53km of tunnels and 74km of cutting, 152 underbridges, 145 overbridges, 31 main compounds and 299 satellite compounds. It will require 128 million tonnes of excavations and the largest ever tree-planting project. 

Only targeting half the talent pool 

Evans added that delivering HS2 will require engineers skilled to Level 4 advanced apprenticeships and above. However, just 4% of engineers completing Level 4 apprenticeships in the UK are women, making it the lowest rate in Europe. The engineering workforce needs to be more diverse, said Evans, not only to be fair but to ensure the rail industry isn’t missing out on candidates with new abilities and ways of thinking. 

“We are, at best, targeting 50% of the talent base available to us,” he said, adding that he thought “cognitive diversity” was more important than demographic diversity for the industry’s future. 

Evans also gave a sneak preview of the HS2 College in Birmingham, which he said would “transform the image of the rail industry”. 

The college will teach students from all ages and backgrounds, including those on their second or third career, and provide one third of training in the workplace, one third long-distance, and one third on campus, taught by industry professionals. 

“I want to use the best of the best,” Evans said. “We’re actually fighting off people who want to come and help us.”

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email opinion@railtechnologymagazine.com



Merseyferry   03/06/2016 at 12:50

In South Yorkshire schools there have not been enough emphasis on this subject especially in Doncaster. As an engineer myself who came through the ranks of an apprenticeship in British Rail no one is going into the schools today and presenting this to our students. My granddaughter is very keen to do this but is discourage my teachers who know nothing about the rail industry. I will personally guide her through this myself if I have too??

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