Rail Industry Focus


Investing in the country’s future workforce

Source: RTM August/September

Clair Mowbray, chief executive of the National College for High Speed Rail, talks about addressing the skills gap and investing in new talent across the transport sector.

With the UK rail and engineering industries facing a critical skills shortage at a time of major investment and growth, businesses are being asked to help engineer Britain’s biggest industrial recruitment drive since the 20th Century.

Owing to both future investment plans and the skills gap, the opportunity for new talent across the entire transport sector is vast. Latest figures published by the Strategic Transport Apprenticeship Taskforce estimate that 50,000 are needed in rail; 41,000 people are needed to fill roles on the road network; and 180,000 people nationally are needed to deliver the Heathrow Expansion project. The nature of work in the transport sector is also changing at pace and there are further potential skills gaps, particularly at higher technical levels.   

The skills gap is caused by a number of factors including poor diversity, an ageing workforce, changing demands, and difficulties attracting people into engineering disciplines and STEM subjects. Yet the requirement for higher level skills is increasing because new roles are emerging. Developments in technology, a move towards digital transport systems, and newer ways of working such as offsite and modular methods of construction and engineering are all fuelling this demand.   

This challenge, and the opportunity it brings, is impacted upon further still with an estimate that businesses in Britain will need around 203,000 new engineers every year until 2024. Right now, we’re falling short by around 49,000 engineers a year. The rail industry in particular faces even further skills shortages, with one in five rail engineers currently aged over-55. 

Businesses working in transport-related disciplines - whether they are engineering specialists, construction companies, network facilitators, or systems designers – all have an important role to play in addressing the skills shortage.   

As an employer-led college supported by the government, the National College for High Speed Rail has been established to help the industry rise to this challenge. Our curriculum, which is based around Level 4 and 5 apprenticeships and full-time courses, expanding to some discreet Level 3 provision right through to Level 6 and short CPD courses, is industry-led and industry-focused, using the very best technology, facilities and teaching practice.

The college, which has sites in Doncaster and Birmingham, has already benefitted from engaging with leading sector employers like BBV, EK, Honeywell, Atkins, Arcadis and Volker Rail.  Our network of employers are supporting the college in a variety of ways; by offering placements and apprenticeships; providing mentors; offering visits to their sites and depots for college learners; donating equipment; delivering guest lectures, and sharing expertise to give learners at the National College for High Speed Rail access to the very latest thinking in the industry.  All of this activity and more is allowing industry businesses the opportunity to equip and shape their potential future employees.

Our foundations are built on being truly industry responsive and we continue to invite a wide range of companies to inform our future direction.  For the 2019-20 academic year, we will be diversifying our college’s core offer, providing higher technical, world  class skills for high speed rail and rail modernisation, and also encompassing developments in associated areas such as light rail, metro and freight, smart mobility and digital transport systems.  

As the recent ‘Talent 2050’ report by Barclays, LSBU, NATS and Pearson highlighted, a new approach to skills could help the industry move thinking away from the current ‘leaky pipeline’ to recruit from a ‘reservoir of talent’, which is ready to learn.  We are proud to already be a part of this approach and we are encouraging businesses across the sector to join us on that journey.


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