…but new major projects are at risk if critical skills shortages in the rail industry are not addressed.
CRITICAL skills shortages in the rail industry are putting the success of new major infrastructure projects at risk, according to research by the National Skills Academy for Rail (NSAR) and City & Guilds.
The Back on Track report, which was launched on November 23 ahead of the National Infrastructure Strategy launch two days later (see separate story), reveals that approximately 120,000 more people need to join the rail workforce within the next decade in order to meet the skills demand, across a range of roles.
The rail sector’s ageing workforce (28% of workers are over 50 years old) means that about 15,000 people could retire from the industry by 2025. Brexit is also expected to reduce the access to overseas workers, with the proportion of EU workers already dropping from 17% to 15% between 2016 and 2018.
Exacerbating the problem is that the railway continues to struggle to attract and train new people, with only a third of respondents to a YouGov survey of 1,532 UK adults saying that they would consider a career in the sector.
The results also highlighted the continuing challenge to recruit from a diverse background:
■ Just 16% of the current rail workforce is female and only 24% of women would consider a career in rail, compared with 41% of men.
■ 26% of 18 to 24-year-olds say they would consider a career in rail, compared with 39% of 35 to 44-year-olds.
■ 27% of people from a Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) background would consider working in rail, compared with 32% of white people.
“The UK rail industry is on the cusp of leading a once-in-a-generation infrastructure revolution, with the potential to create thousands of high-quality jobs across the country at a time when they are needed most,” said Martin Hottass, Managing Director - Technical Training at City & Guilds Group.
“However, the dual blow of Brexit and a retirement cliff edge, in addition to systemic issues around growing and retaining skills, means that unless Government, employers and industries work together to urgently addresses these issues, they risk scuppering this golden opportunity.”
NSAR Chief Executive Officer
Neil Robertson said: “As we look to invest in new talent to fill future skills gaps in the rail industry, it’s important to note that we also have a valuable opportunity to improve social mobility across the UK.
“By hiring people from a wide range of backgrounds and regions, and equipping them with quality skills and career progression, we can ensure that these infrastructure projects not only create jobs, but also promote positive socioeconomic change.”
The report makes a number of recommendations to address the skills challenge “before it’s too late”, including developing strong career paths that attract and retain talent and utilising the green agenda to attract the younger generation to consider a career in rail.
■ For more on the report and its recommendations, read Analysis in RAIL 920, on sale December 16.