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HS2: More important than ever to invest in essential skills

Coronavirus has generated significant uncertainty throughout the rail industry, with those employers who have invested in an essential skills framework managing to adapt best to the unprecedented times. As Kate Myers, Head of Skills, Education and Employment at HS2 Ltd, explains, human skills and the ability to remain positive, focused and supportive of others have made the difference in adapting to the current uncertain climate.

That mindset has been adopted into the HS2 organisation, with the value of that investment into skills paying off as the business has been able to adapt to the changes it needed to make both quickly and efficiently.

Across the education and future talent programmes, HS2’s ‘Skills Builder’ model has helped embed an essential skills approach. Focusing down this route has assisted in building a resilient workforce and becoming better equipped to adapt to the ‘new normal’ of the months ahead, according to Ms Myers.

While major construction works are still taking place at over 80% of HS2’s work sites between Birmingham and London, office-based staff has been transitioned to remote working and the company has adapted the way it engages with external partners and the community, holding meetings and events virtually.

HS2 has looked to upskill the UK rail sector and ensure opportunities are given to those who live locally along the route, as well as those from disadvantaged and underrepresented groups. Major construction of the first phase of Britain’s new railway route between London and Birmingham is already underway and, at its peak, construction of HS2 will support 30,000 jobs and 2,000 apprenticeships.

With ambitions to leave a lasting skills legacy, HS2 is looking at revolutionising a rail engineering sector currently suffering from an ageing workforce and underrepresentation of female and BAME workers. Redressing those imbalances has been key from the first days of the project but now with the impacts of coronavirus going forward, HS2’s investment into essential skills from the ground up look to have created a further benefit to both their workforce and the local areas with which they connect.

Ms Myers explained: “Harnessing the use of essential skills really helps to inspire young people and support their development. We work with pupils at local schools along the HS2 route to understand the link between the essential skills they are developing and how this links to future careers they may not have thought about before on major projects like HS2.

“Continuing that engagement with young people, through our work experience programmes, mentoring schemes, apprenticeships and attendance at job fares and careers events up and down the country helps us to keep that inspiration alive and support young people into meaningful career pathways to work on HS2, where we continue to invest in their essential skills.”

HS2 was already a significant project before the coronavirus pandemic. Now, as the UK economy faces a period of economic recovery potentially unlike we’ve seen before, the ability to ramp up construction works and increase the workforce will play a pivotal role, ensuring the main works construction contracts, which have now been awarded and total a sum of £12bn, can begin to move forward and that investment ripple down to tier two and three contractors and companies across the UK.

There are potentially difficult times ahead, but with an investment into skills and a wide-reaching workforce which can impact local economies across the UK, HS2 is confident in its abilities to contribute to the recovery efforts.


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