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Attracting talent to the rail sector today

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​With large rail projects such as Crossrail, Crossrail2 and HS2 posing exciting infrastructure and rolling stock opportunities to businesses, from OEM to tier 5 suppliers, Gemma Skidmore, rail expert at Jonathan Lee Recruitment, discusses how the rail sector is calling upon skills development to meet project requirements. Following Gemma Skidmore’s previous blog entry discussing the next generation of rail engineers, Gemma addresses how the sector can act here and now to relieve current skill shortage pressures.


Tackling the imminent skill shortage in the rail sector is critical. The sector not only needs to address the ageing workforce (over half of the workforce will retire in the next decade) but those remaining will need training to gain new skills. My colleague, David Woakes and I recently presented at a HS2 event hosted by the Confederation of British Metalforming (CBM) to discuss skills in relation to HS2. With the first 3 phases of infrastructure supply contracts worth £900 million now released, the companies in attendance were keen to be a part of the supply chain for HS2. As partners with the CBM, we were attending to help their members access skills. 

The event provided a stark reminder that for this project and across the larger modernisation of the rail industry, the number and range of benefiting companies is vast; from coach and cab interiors, bogies and sub-systems to seat designs, lifting gears and social media programmes for the rolling stock let alone for the main infrastructure from track, signalling and stations. Consequently, there is a wide array of skills needed to cover the entire rail engineering spectrum and beyond. 


During the presentation we discussed the steps an organisation can take to secure talent:

First and foremost, to look in-depth at the existing workforce and put in place a retention and development plan to help retain staff in a highly competitive market, assess future skill requirements and develop a long-term strategy to harness the full potential of staff and equip them for the challenges ahead. This may involve training, but the use of interims is also a way of delivering highly targeted programmes to up skill staff and enhance the leadership skills needed to embed them in the future plans of the organisation.

As a recruitment specialist, we are also well aware of how companies in different sectors can leverage transferable skills. The recent merger of our own rail, automotive, motorsport, aerospace, commercial vehicle and off-highway divisions into a single transport division acknowledges the synergies in skills and functions across these sectors.


We have seen, how over the past 16 years, design engineers have moved between the yellow goods, aerospace, automotive and rail sectors. Skill-set synergies can be found in such areas as cab design and carriage interiors, electrical, electrical wiring and harness design, as well as piping and instrumentation routing. While no-one is pretending that engineers can slot easily into any sector, with flexibility and enthusiasm on both sides then a potential compromise can quickly become a real asset.

This is true across the broader skills, from research & development, design & engineering, manufacturing & operations, through to commercial & support roles.

The rapid evolution in the rail sector is a tremendous opportunity to rethink recruitment and put in place measures that will make the industry increasingly attractive to a diverse range of talented and skilled engineers. Those organisations that are prepared to think creatively about solving the challenges ahead will be on the right track to succeed during one of the most exciting periods of investment that the sector has ever seen. 

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