Railway sector ‘not attractive enough’ for young engineers

A new report suggests that the British railway engineering industry is not attractive enough for young jobseekers and graduates.

The Lloyds Register survey interviewed 220 members of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) and found that railway engineering is often neglected in favour of other engineering disciplines that offer easier transitions across sectors. The survey findings are as follows:

  • More than 58 per cent felt that the rail industry relies too much on internal, self-accredited training and standards, rather than more generic qualifications to measure competence. It is believed that this restricts recruitment of skilled candidates from other fields and as a result railway engineering should be more open to skills brought in from other engineering disciplines;
  • Eighty-two per cent felt that training and development within railway engineering encourages specialism too early on and as a result career paths are narrowed, skills transfer is prohibited and new entrants are deterred;
  • Sixty per cent of the respondents felt that qualifications within the rail industry are too ‘national’ in their approach and that this will not adequately serve an industry that is likely to become increasingly international, with increases in cross-border operations and operators. The report claims the industry should work towards international qualifications, standards and certificates for staff at all levels; and
  • Seventy-one per cent felt that energy efficiency was the discipline that would have the highest demand for skills over the next 10 years.

According to a statement, the news will be of concern as the railway industry in the UK has avoided the government’s infrastructure cuts and looks set to boom.

‘Young people are attracted to professions that do not appear to restrict choice and variety so we need to demonstrate how a career in the railways offers a solid technical grounding with plenty of opportunities to follow specialist interests later as their experience develops,’ said John Stansfeld, transportation director at Lloyd’s Register. ‘We must challenge the perception that engineers are “locked in” to one discipline for life.’

Big infrastructure projects such as Crossrail and high-speed train links from London to Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham are still going ahead. The Northwest Triangle scheme to electrify routes around Liverpool and Manchester adds further to the demand for skilled labour.

At the same time, railway projects across the world are creating enormous demand for skilled staff globally.

The number of countries running high-speed trains is expected to nearly double over the next few years, according to recent research by the Worldwatch Institute for Vital Signs Online. By 2014, high-speed trains will be operating in nearly 24 countries, including China, France, Italy, Japan, Spain and the US, up from only 14 countries today.

The shortage of skilled railway engineers has started to be addressed in the UK with Vince Cable, the business secretary, giving government backing to a new National Skills Academy for Rail Engineering (Nsare), expected to commence operations this year.  

Similarly, the UK Tunnelling and Underground Construction Academy (TUCA) has just opened its doors. Crossrail and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills via the Skills Funding Agency have invested up to £12.5m in the academy, which will train at least 3,500 people to work on Crossrail.