Set to boost electrification jobs but do we have the skilled labour to meet demand for the ‘biggest modernisation of our railways since the Victorian era’?
We’re seeing increasing skills shortages in many disciplines across this sector. This can be attributed to the nature of the rail industry – large-scale, capital intensive projects that can take decades to plan and implement. These skills shortages are a major cause for concern with significant railway upgrades due to begin in 2014 for what David Cameron has labelled the “biggest modernisation of our railways since the Victorian era”.
Rail is high on the agenda. In July 2012, the coalition announced a £9.4bn investment package for the railways of England and Wales that includes provisions for the electrification of a further 850 miles of track. The 2013 Budget saw a further £3 billion investment allocated to infrastructure.
Skills generation gap
Because of lengthy breaks between large-scale rail projects, demand for skilled labour within specialist disciplines, such as signalling and electrification, can fluctuate significantly making redundancy of certain skills during those periods a very real concern.
As a result, we are seeing a skills generation gap, with a particular shortage of candidates within the £35-£50k salary bracket – middle managers, project managers and team leaders.
Disappointingly the investment in infrastructure in the 2013 Budget did not include any fresh measures to boost skills training within this candidate-short market for much needed apprenticeships and training schemes to help redress the balance.
How can we combat this skills shortage?
With the majority of disciplines across the rail industry requiring specialist skill-sets and specific technical knowledge and expertise, generally speaking skills are not directly transferable.
So, the question is how flexible are employers willing to be in terms of required skills and experience and are they prepared to train workers from related disciplines to upskill them on the job?
With work due to commence from 2014 onwards on over thirty proposed large-scale electrification projects across the country, it’s time to address the potential labour shortage.