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HS2 is set to become the largest infrastructure project, with early budgets indicating that it will dwarf London’s Crossrail project, the current record holder. The sheer size of the development means the rail industry needs to help grow skilled professionals and bring them into the market to ensure the successful delivery of the project deadlines.
In an effort to close the current skills gap facing the rail industry, the National College for High Speed Rail has been given the greenlight by Birmingham City Council to develop the training hub with an additional site to be built in Doncaster.
Construction for the state of the art buildings will begin in April and once complete, the college will be able to provide training to students in: railway infrastructure, traction power supply and distribution. Alongside these core areas, the college will support business management and planning skills which are critical to the delivery of rail projects and the future running of the infrastructure.
The Birmingham facility will cost £22million and will contain classrooms, workshops and external teaching areas that will allow budding engineers to work on railway tracks and OLE catenary. Students attending the college will be fully prepared to work on the HS2 project and gain the skills to work on future infrastructure developments.
However, while the industry hasn’t seen a training scheme of this size before, smaller efforts have fallen prey to the same key issues. Despite the benefits of training schemes, there is often a lack of support and coordination for candidates to transition into employment once they’ve completed their training and the sector has struggled to attract new and diverse talent.
Without support, the rail industry could see students dropping out or left unsure where they can further their trade. However, the new college is supported by the HS2 project, so the next generation of engineers should receive the backing they need to thrive with companies involved.
The main issue is attracting a diverse pool of students who would want to work in the rail industry in an age where many are attracted to the digital media and wider IT sectors. Students have not traditionally been drawn to the construction and infrastructure engineering disciplines, which is where previous schemes have fallen short.
Alongside closing the skills gap, the development of a new college could help more women pursue a career in engineering. However, it all depends on the attraction strategies and requires the industry to embrace change in a widely male represented sector.
There is a need to show upcoming generations of engineers, both male and female, that the rail sector can provide a long and successful career. Especially with exciting upcoming projects such as HS2 which has a completion date of 2026 for phase one and 2032 for phase two, there is no shortage of opportunities in this sector. The industry needs to welcome existing engineers who currently work in other disciplines such as oil and gas, but wish to retrain and upskill.
Due to the greater investments in rail infrastructure throughout the South in recent years, many engineers and rail professionals have been drawn towards the capital to work on these flagship projects. This has led to an increase in wage demand and has exacerbated the North/South divide. Alongside this, the mega-projects offered by Middle East and North Africa regions has negatively affected the talent pool by enticing professionals to a career abroad. The Chancellor’s commitment to the ‘Norther Powerhouse’ allows the North to compete with historic draw to the South.
Now that the college has been given the greenlight, it is expected to be completed in time for 2017’s academic year. The rail industry is a presented with a real chance to tackle the skills gap and provide future infrastructure projects with the talent they need. However, for the college to thrive, the sector needs to support the developing engineers to ensure that once their training is complete they will be able to transition into employment on these large infrastructure projects with good salaries and career prospects.