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Keeping engineering recruitment on track in the rail sector

Posted by: Katherine Garratt 3 Jul 15 - 11:12AM  | Engineering

With ambitious investment plans in place to transform and modernise the UK’s rail network, engineering skills are in demand. Les Hines, Lead Consultant in Off Highway Vehicles and Equipment discusses how the rail sector can meet the recruitment challenges of today and beyond.

Up and down the country, the £38bn investment programme designed to transform, upgrade or build new stations, track and infrastructure, including the electrification of more than 850 miles of track, is underway.

 Les Hines - Lead Consultant Power Generation and Energy
 Les Hines, Lead Consultant - Off  Highway Vehicles & Equipment

Last autumn concerns about skills shortages prompted IMechE Railway Division to outline measures to encourage more young people to pursue an engineering career in the industry. With a short-term target to recruit more than 3,000 highly-skilled engineers, for many businesses in the sector the need is pressing. While the recruitment climate is certainly challenging, there are a number of steps the industry can take to harness and retain the talent it needs now and in the future.

Keeping engineering recruitment on track in the rail sector
Pathways into the industry are not as clear cut as they are for the aerospace and automotive sectors, both of which are served by a broad range of undergraduate and post-graduate courses. In the UK there are 47 automotive engineering and 43 aerospace engineering courses, compared to just one in railway engineering.

This is both a threat and an opportunity for businesses in the sector. Indeed, by providing clear career development paths within their own organisations, employers can make themselves attractive to prospective employees.

Work in the rail sector is often portrayed as vocational and the industry can do more to promote the wide variety of roles available, the potential for personal development and the potential to achieve high levels of pay. Many roles in the rail sector are both safety and performance critical and more can be done to change the image of engineers as hi-vis wearing, spanner-wielding men. By promoting the diversity of roles available and using role models to help bring these roles to life, the sector can attract new talent.

In the interests of both futureproofing and meeting the recruitment challenges of today, the rail industry must get better at self-promotion. Meanwhile a more open-minded approach to training and recruitment is required; only by upskilling and evolving existing teams and looking outside of the sector for motivated candidates with transferable skills can the industry be certain of staying on track.

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