The proposed High Speed Two (HS2) rail network will help keep engineering skills in the UK, according to the project’s new chairman.
Speaking at the unveiling of plans for England’s first new further education college in 20 years, Sir David Higgins said HS2 would provide a welcome boost to the UK skills base.
‘This country produces some of the best engineers to be found anywhere in the world,’ he said. ‘The problem is that there aren’t enough of them, and there isn’t a long enough guaranteed work-stream to keep them here. So they tend to go overseas.
‘HS2 provides us with a unique chance to address both issues. The sheer length of the project means we can offer people a rewarding career in engineering staying in this country, whilst the multiplicity of skills required means we will be equipping a new generation with experience at the cutting edge of technology.’
Higgins, who was formerly chief executive of both Network Rail and the London 2012 Olympic Delivery Authority, was brought in to find ways of cutting the spiralling estimated costs of HS2 and lead a publicity fightback to secure waning support for the project.
He is due to deliver a report in March on how costs might be lowered and delivery sped up.
The government said the proposed new college will provide the specialist training and qualifications needed to help ensure the skilled jobs created by HS2, thought to include up to 2,000 apprenticeships over the life of the project, go to British workers.
Skills and enterprise minister Matthew Hancock said in a statement: ‘HS2 will be a world-class project using cutting edge technology. It is vital we act now to ensure we have enough skilled people to build HS2 and make sure as many jobs as possible are local.
‘This new elite institution with a specific focus on rail construction and maintenance will give learners new skills which respond not only to the needs of HS2, but also to the future of rail engineering so is vital for Britain’s future.’
The government has not yet said where the college would be located or how much it would cost but said it was expected to open by 2017 when construction of HS2 is due to begin.
Commenting on the announcement, Keith Lewis, managing director of engineering recruitment company Matchtech said: ‘The creation of a further education college specialising in engineering sends a really strong message.
‘Our recent Confidence Index findings…found that over three quarters of UK engineers are doubtful that enough is being done by the government to attract new talent to the engineering industry.
‘Over half of all the engineers surveyed said they would either definitely or possibly be prepared to move overseas for work and nearly two thirds believe the UK will cease to be an engineering world leader in the future.
‘A big contributor to this sentiment is the perceived lack of investment in UK engineering skills and education, so it is fantastic to learn about the planned launch in 2017 to support the sector.’