How is the skills shortage affecting the UK's rail industry?

Wednesday 16th September, 2015
Industry news

The UK's ongoing skills shortage has hardly been out of the news over the past couple of years, with many businesses unable to perform to the best of their ability due to the fact they cannot recruit staff with the expertise they need.

In particular, the construction and IT sectors have been struggling, but with several high-profile transport infrastructure projects - Crossrail and HS2, for example - underway, the rail industry is being adversely affected by the skills shortage as well.

However, the government has recognised the problem and is investing a proportion of its £70 billion transport budget in training up the next generation of rail contractors.

Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin commented: "Training our rail and road workforce is essential if we want to build a transport network fit for the future.

"I want to see every part of Britain benefiting from a growing economy and this is why our investment in transport won't just help people get around, it will help them get on."

Chairman of the Crossrail project Terry Morgan added: "It's vital that we develop the workforce of the future, ensuring the transport industry has the right people in the right place at the right time, and crucially with the right skills, to deliver this unprecedented programme of infrastructure work."

Skills shortage concerns

Some £70 billion is being spent by the government to improve the UK's transport systems over the next few years, which includes the biggest and most innovative rail investment since Victorian times.

The overriding aim of the extensive project is to improve journey times, comfort and accessibility for the UK's residents and visitors, but the government is also investing in developing workers' skills, in a bid to prevent the shortage from worsening further in the future.

What's more, a gender gap still exists in the rail industry, as it does in many other engineering sectors, with women accounting for just seven per cent of the UK's total engineering workforce.

And with estimations showing that the field will require an additional 1.82 million engineering professionals by 2022, a significant number of women will be needed to fill a sizeable proportion of these vacancies.

As part of its significant investment in rail, the government is taking action to encourage more women to consider careers in engineering, alongside working towards the establishment of a national network of colleges where both men and women can learn transport infrastructure skills and gain associated qualifications.

Rail opportunities for contractors

So, what exactly are the opportunities that are currently available to contractors in the rail industry?

In London, contractors are working on the Crossrail project, which when completed, will see 42 km of tunnels connecting 40 stations in the Greater London area, while the HS2 development will require skilled contractors to work on the project to connect the capital with the north of England.

With the proposed high-speed rail line set to pass through much of Central England, this is likely to create opportunities for contractors based in all parts of the country, not just London.

This means workers need to ensure they are taking action to nurture and develop their skills to place themselves in the best possible position for competing for contracts when the time comes.

In response to this, the government is creating 30,000 new apprenticeships, to make sure the next generation of rail contractors are as highly-skilled as possible.

London's transport commissioner Mike Brown explained: "The London transport network supports more than 30 million journeys every day. With the city's population set to grow from 8.6 million today to ten million by 2030, more railway and road apprentices will play key roles to deliver an expanded, more reliable network capable of keeping the city working and growing for the benefit of the whole national economy."

Utilising transferable skills

How can contractors who have previously worked on transport and construction projects ensure they stand out among the new blood in the rail industry when it comes to competing for roles?

The government has announced it is committed to helping workers upskill themselves to make sure they can cope with new challenges faced by the industry through a range of new training courses.

Contractors who are considering taking time out from their work to attend courses or study towards qualifications to develop their skills in response to the shortage will likely have less time to spend on the day-to-day running of their limited company - but this is where PayStream can help.

Our My PSC service helps contractors set up and run their own limited company in the most tax efficient way possible, with minimum fuss. It provides help and support when needed ensuring that contractors can focus on other aspects of their work. So if you tend to work on projects or are a long term contractor with a number of contracts, if you fall outside IR35, if you want complete control of your finances and you want to work in the most tax-efficient way possible, then our My PSC service is the service for you.

Some £70 billion is being spent by the government to improve the UK's transport systems over the next few years, which includes the biggest and most innovative rail investment since Victorian times.