Making rail a career of choice


The UK has set some ambitious goals for rail projects across the nation for the next few years – from creating 850,000 new jobs through the development of the Northern Powerhouse Rail to HS2 bridging the North-South divide. These initiatives will transform the country as we know it, but in order to reach these targets we need professionals, graduates and trainees from all walks of life in the sector and this is only going to be achieved by having more people ask “Why should I choose a career in rail?” Here’s why.

We need to save rail

The many exciting projects that the UK has in the pipeline will undoubtedly make travelling more comfortable, efficient and simple, however it plays a more important role in society than this. Railway is the connector for all things related to the national economy and the gateway to growth in jobs, housing and business. Additionally, efficient transport connecting talent pools to opportunities can help fix the disparity between the North and South. The planned rail developments will increase connectivity to businesses, creating a more balanced economy for the whole country. However, while this all sounds grand on paper, the logistics are increasingly challenging.

Skills shortage

What makes the situation so urgent is that there are many baby boomer rail professionals approaching the end of their career, which means the sector is facing the harsh reality of a retirement cliff. Figures from AECOM show that over 40 per cent of all professionally-registered engineers are aged 50-plus which demonstrates how imperative it is to focus on training the next generation of workers. Unfortunately, as we have written about before, this is exacerbated by the worrying skills shortage. For example, The National Skills Academy for Rail (NSAR) estimates that over the next five years there will be a gap of around 11,000 required technical experts and research from Engineering UK also reveals that the UK will need 1.8 million new engineers and technicians by 2025 – a number that is unlikely to be reached given the current gap between supply and demand.

What’s stopping people from entering the industry?

To fix this problem, we must first understand why it is happening in the first place. We believe that there are so few people entering rail because there is the wrong perception of the employment opportunities in the industry. Traditionally, a career in rail has been painted as labour intensive, unimaginative and male dominated. There is also a lack of understanding that working in rail goes beyond physical exertion on the tracks, and into areas such as design, business development and project management – there are even job titles that many school leavers may never have heard of such as ‘dynamic testing manager’. The belief that working in rail is boring and for those that left school with no clear career path is certainly not the case – the industry is broad, in-depth, and requires individuals from an array of backgrounds.

Why choose a career in rail?

Rail is one of the few sectors currently enjoying sustainable growth. Experts at UNIFE, the association responsible for the European rail manufacturing industry, predicts that it will see 2.6% growth year on year until at least 2020. Clearly, there is a high demand for talent, meaning plenty of opportunities to choose from. Projects such as HS2 require ongoing work and is estimated to be continued up until 2030 or later. This leaves plenty of room to develop skills and space for continual professional development.

Plus, who wouldn’t want a career in one of the most innovative industries that allows you to travel the country, and in some circumstances, the world? Working in rail is far from dull, and as it is going through such a transformative stage, employees will be a part of an exciting new era that involves working with the latest state of the art technology.

What needs to be done to make more people choose rail as a career?

While immediate resources are certainly being prioritised, there needs to be a long-term and strategic approach to fix the crippling shortage of skills. It’s our view that there must be a collaborative effort between rail organisations and the government to develop an attraction strategy that encourages young people to take an interest in rail. By promoting career paths into rail and educating students about the opportunities available, we will see more bright, talented individuals walk through the door. Through boosting internship opportunities and graduate schemes, as we have, people will be able to witness how fulfilling a career in rail truly is, and soon the question will turn from “why choose a career in rail?” to “how do I get in?”

To see which exciting opportunities we have available in the rail sector, click here.

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