Looking outside of London for skilled rail engineers

The UK rail industry is booming. The first phase of High Speed 2 is expected to get final approval at the end of the year, which alongside other schemes such as Crossrail 2, GWEP, Northern Hub, and Wessex Waterloo, will create an abundance of work opportunities for skilled engineers. Of course this is good news for those seeking work, but in today’s candidate short market, has the UK got the resource available to get the job done?

Many of these projects, and more notably HS2, are looking to base their design hubs and a significant proportion of their workforce outside of London in an effort to drive growth in talent and job opportunities across the country as a whole rather than continuing to focus on fuelling the development of engineers in the capital alone. In fact, a key factor in securing public and government approval for HS2 was their promise to create jobs and economic growth across the country.

Our clients are talking to us about upcoming opportunities in a number of locations up and down the country with Birmingham and Manchester carrying significance. HS2 have based their head office in Birmingham and it is our expectation that a high number of opportunities on HS2 Phase 1 (either with the client or supply chain) will be Birmingham located. Manchester will be a key area for recruitment for the Northern Hub scheme and clients will look to build teams there that can move onto delivering the design of Phase 2 of HS2, which connects the line up to Manchester and Leeds. This will have a significant impact on the recruitment market and finding enough talent will be a challenge.

Graham Day, Department Manager – Rail, Matchtech, describes the resource challenge the recruitment industry faces:

“Projects such as Crossrail, which have centred around high quality design and adopted the BIM process, has developed talent in London but this has not been matched by other UK cities.”

The main roles in demand within the rail sector are:

• Chartered Engineers

• CAD Technicians with 3D Modelling experience

• Planners with either engineering qualifications and/or with Primavera experience

• Quantity Surveyors familiar with NEC contracts

With a large proportion of major rail schemes being undertaken in the capital over the past 10-15 years, the city’s skills capability has been significantly boosted. Crossrail 1, Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL) and London Underground have all left their mark on the engineering community within London but skills development outside of the capital has been less dramatic. This presents employers with quite a dilemma, as Graham explains:

“Specialist skillsets in London have been developed at an accelerated rate and employers recruiting for these projects have become accustomed to these advanced skills. The problem is that by delivering new project work from alternative locations to London, will not necessarily be as simple as re-locating the existing workforce and skill set.”

“Instead, employers of these major projects need to look outside of the capital to hire the large numbers of engineering professionals they need, even if it means providing additional training to bring their skills up to the level these projects demand.”

It is clear that the UK rail industry needs to look to have short, medium and long term recruitment strategies in place to combat the skills gap. If employers in the capital restrict their recruitment to London, it will only exacerbate the gap. Instead, employers need to make use of the strong engineering skills that are on offer across the UK. Graham adds:

“Training is important not only for new staff but for existing staff to continue boosting the UK’s engineering capabilities and expertise.”

“We produced some data recently that showed a gap in 3D modelling capability in the London market vs. Birmingham. This is understandable given the high value project work that has worked to BIM standards in London in recent years. However, a simple solution could be training 3D capable engineers/technicians in other software packages to deploy their skills using the Microstation platform. This could be a quick win for the industry and could drastically increase the candidate pool.”

Prioritising the strategy to increase the skilled workforce outside of London early will help to bridge the skills gap for skilled rail engineers. By celebrating our existing specialist engineering talent across the UK and training and upskilling the engineers of tomorrow, the industry will ensure it secures the skills it needs for the future.


To discuss opportunities, contact Graham Day on 01489 898183 or via email Graham.Day@matchtech.com

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