Challenging perceptions and encouraging the next generation of rail professionals
Posted: 16 January 2017 | | 2 comments
Gary Smithson, Associate Director – Rail at Morson International recruitment agency discusses the industry skills shortage and explains why it will be important to challenge current perceptions as well as encourage the next generation.
The rail industry is facing a serious skills shortage; one which is only set to increase over the coming years. With several major development projects taking place across the country – including Crossrail, Thameslink and HS2 – there is no shortage of positions available to rail professionals. The issue is finding the workforce to fill these roles.
The skills gap is being felt across the rail industry, particularly in areas like signalling and electrification. A 2015 report from The Office of Rail and Road estimated that by 2020, 900 engineering and technical workers will be needed to fulfil positions in conventional rail, while in high speed rail this figure is estimated to be closer to 7,200.
The rail industry needs to come together to start plugging this gap before it’s too late.
Recent years have seen our recruiters broaden their search for talent. We’re regularly in contact with professionals from Asia, Australia and America, but this is only a short-term answer. More needs to be done at to nurture home-grown talent.
Inspiring the next generation
There’s an ageing workforce in the rail industry, and as this older generation prepares for retirement, a new, younger generation will need to take their place. It’s vital that young people are inspired to begin a career in rail to ensure future demands for talent are met.
Currently, our teams are having to approach older professionals, sometimes even ones who are nearing retirement, in order to fill certain highly skilled roles. Right now, there simply aren’t enough younger professionals, so we’re still seeing a greying workforce, especially in more specialised areas.
Steps are being taken to try and bring in the next generation and reverse this trend, however.
Last year saw the government announce their plans to create 30,000 additional rail and road apprenticeships by the end of the current parliament. This figure is on top of the 2,000 apprenticeships on offer through the National College for High Speed Rail.
There are also ways we as an industry can take advantage of an ageing workforce while it exists. At Morson, our apprenticeship programme has the ability to build skills in key areas by calling on the expertise of more experienced engineers. We work collaboratively with these individuals, making the most of their decades of industry experience by getting them to mentor younger, more inexperienced professionals.
Education will play a key role in inspiring the next generation of rail professionals. Young people need to be made aware of the broad spectrum of different opportunities available within the industry, as well as the various benefits that come with them. Many simply won’t be aware of the vast possibilities a career in rail can offer.
We recently launched Tracks to Success, an online hub which features helpful guides, links to thought leadership pieces and an interactive career map. The idea behind this hub is to reach out to young people, educate them on the available opportunities and galvanise them to consider a career in rail.
While inspiring a new generation of professionals is needed to meet the future demand for talent, immediate action is also needed to provide relief in the short-term. As the demand for highly skilled workers continues to rise, we need to start looking further afield for candidates.
Rail is often seen as a rather closed off industry, but this is a perception that needs to change. There is no denying that certain skills will be specific to individual sectors, and certain roles will be highly specialised. However, there are some skill sets that are easily transferrable from one industry to another.
Take the oil and gas industry, for example, which is currently retracting. Many engineers will now be facing a decreasing amount of opportunities in this industry, despite having been in it for their entire careers. Their skills, qualifications and experience make them ideal candidates for certain roles in rail. However, due to current perceptions of the industry, many of these individuals would never consider making the move to rail, while many employers wouldn’t consider them even if they did.
At Morson, we’re actively speaking to candidates with transferrable skills from other sectors and doing all we can to help them transition into roles in rail.
Even London’s tube drivers are only offered to those who are already part of TfL – this needs to change. However, it has been interesting to gain an insight to a female graduate who has started working at the rail company.
When I started in 1961 in the S & T department at Tyseley in Birmingham as a Probationer at the tender age of 15 I was taught all about the signalling of the 60’s and as I progressed so did the type of signalling and telephones from mechanical signals to colour lights and mechanical points to electric motors, the phones went from push button to dial type and so on. now we have computerised signalling and telephones, I had to learn on the job as there were no College courses available for Railway Signalling, Alstom are building a College specifically for Railway work and hopefully tomorrows new starters will have a better leap forward than I had. (mind you I would not changed my life on the railway).