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How upcoming rail developments are safeguarding talent for the future

The UK’s rail network is undergoing a huge overhaul at the moment with the Crossrail, HS2, Thameslink Programme and the Great Western Electrification project all coming together to upgrade, extend and improve British railway lines.

Most of these projects are well underway and set to continue into the next decade, so what has this investment meant for the job market?

Unsurprisingly, these rail projects that span across the UK have opened up a number of opportunities for both specialists in rail and those in the wider supply chain. Everything from the design of new rail lines to the safety checks that need to be carried out involve people from almost every industry, offering roles in all specialisms.

Last year’s Engineering report found that despite the increase in people choosing engineering as a career path, more people were needed to avoid a significant skills gap emerging. Based on forecasted projects, the report explained that 2.56 million people will be in engineering roles by 2022 and that a staggering 257,000 of these would be new vacancies.

As a result, the focus is on engaging younger recruits into engineering through initiatives like ‘Tomorrow’s Enginneer’. This is where the wider industry goals of engineering are aligning with the rail sector itself; the new rail developments have inspired a drive for apprentices and entry level engineers to solifidy their skillset and become specialists through their work on these niche projects.

The Crossrail project, with an investment of £43billion is a heavyweight in terms of rail development that has already provided 10,000 jobs and 400 roles for apprentices. By the end of 2026, this figure is likely to triple, opening up opportunities for 30,000 people.

The Crossrail project even has a dedicated training centre, which equips people with the engineering skills they need for the project and then to further develop their career.

Outside the capital, work is set to begin soon on the High Speed 2 railway network and the technical demands of the project is expected to open up opportunities for more than 70,000 people across the UK. Like the Crossrail project, the HS2 is associated with a further education college where engineers are trained in the appropriate skills for the project to become specialists.

It is refreshing to see such significant rail developments promoting the need to nurture and train engineers within the UK to ensure there’s enough talented workers to meet demand in the not too distant future.

These dedicated academies for specific projects are not alone. One training centre takes in 240 apprentices a year with its tailored programme for rail engineers. This may not sound a lot, but more than 10,000 people have successfully completed training at this dedicated centre. The key to safeguarding our rail network is in ensuring there are enough people entering the industry with the right skills and the government are supporting this with their pledge to introduce 2 million apprentices into the industry by the end of their term.

Training and support is not isolated to the younger, inexperienced engineers that enter the rail industry. Projects like the Crossrail and Thameslink enable experienced engineers to become speicalists in their niche field. Similarly, dedicated academies offer reactive courses for existing engineers to gain new skills for any industry developments or advances.

The excitement and challenge of the likes of the Crossrail development or the Great Western Electification have opened up opportunities for thousands of engineers, construction workers and supply chain operators and hopefully inspired a generation of new talent.

However, these new developments will also boost the job opportunities for people working in other industries as the higher volume of trains and faster connections mean that it’s easier to commute to the larger cities, where the best jobs are found.

By Neil Wilkie, Head of Procurement, Marketing and Services at Fusion People – a specialist rail recruitment company with genuine global reach. 

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