Rail Industry Focus


Mind the skills gap

Source: RTM Oct/Nov 2019


Clair Mowbray, chief executive of the recently renamed National College for Advanced Transport & Infrastructure, explains how the college is aiming to bridge the skills gap in the transport and infrastructure.

For anyone involved in the rail industry, the fact that we’re in the midst of a huge skills deficit will come as no surprise. Commonly referred to as a skills ‘gap’, the reality is more of an ever-widening crevasse – and one which threatens to stifle sector growth.

Figures published by the Strategic Transport Apprenticeship Taskforce in July this year estimated that 50,000 extra people are needed to deliver the planned investment into rail by 2033; 41,000 people are needed to support the road networks; and 180,000 people are needed to deliver the Heathrow Expansion project.

To meet this challenge, the National College for Advanced Transport and Infrastructure (NCATI) opened its doors to learners in 2017. Previously known as the National College for High Speed Rail, our main goal was to provide specialist vocational training required to deliver high speed rail projects.  As an employer-led college, it’s key that we equip our learners with the skills and a curriculum which will meet the demands and the skills shortages of the broader sector. To this end, the change in remit was announced earlier this month, following a consultation with key stakeholders, learners, staff, employers and representatives from across the industry, to ensure that the College reflects the needs of the wider industry.

However, while NCATI works hard to build links with industry, it is vital that this translates into demand. The transport and infrastructure sector needs to better articulate the wide range of jobs and skills that we are going to need, as well as the exciting opportunities that exist for a new generation of engineers. To deliver the investment and outcomes required, we must attract more workers into the infrastructure market through new apprentices, technicians, graduates and skilled workers from other industries, as well as retraining and up-skilling the existing workforce. To do this, we must work in collaboration with business to attract, train and retain a workforce that will meet sector needs.

Across both transport and infrastructure sectors, the use of modern techniques, digitalisation and the latest technology is becoming increasingly prevalent, further widening the knowledge gap in the existing workforce and increasing the demand from industry for a highly technical skillset. The nature of the work across the sectors is changing and it is key that providers such as NCATI equip learners to meet the demands of the sector if we are to avoid widening the gap even further.

In addition to the skills shortage and changing skillset, the industry suffers hugely from a lack of diversity. Attracting new talent and encouraging interest from a diverse talent pool is central to our role. It is vital that we create a new generation of engineers for the modernisation of the existing rail and infrastructure network, drawn from lots of different backgrounds and with the skills to take on any challenge.

In summary, to deliver the skills required, training providers must work collaboratively with industry and continuously evolve to ensure that they are meeting the ever-changing needs of the sector. Only then can we begin to close the gap.


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