Skills gap forcing rail firms overseas

A shortage of skilled signalling engineers in the UK is forcing the rail industry to look overseas for staff to complete urgent safety work. Railtrack is in the final stages of recruiting signalling engineers from South Africa, while contractor First Engineering said the chronic shortage of skilled signal designers and testers in the UK had […]

A shortage of skilled signalling engineers in the UK is forcing the rail industry to look overseas for staff to complete urgent safety work.

Railtrack is in the final stages of recruiting signalling engineers from South Africa, while contractor First Engineering said the chronic shortage of skilled signal designers and testers in the UK had forced it to recruit from Romania. The firm is looking for 72 signalling and telecoms engineers. It said 14 Romanian electronics engineers had been hired and were due to start work in January.

‘We are recruiting actively for signal designers from within the UK, but you cannot get them overnight, and training our own people takes time,’ a spokesman said. First Engineering said the shortage had been worsened as the effects of the government’s 10-year investment package to improve the UK’s transport system had begun to be felt.

‘Our workload has more than doubled in the last two years. To cope with the amount of work we have on, we are having to recruit people from overseas,’ he said.

Skilled engineers from India and Pakistan are also said to be employed on different sections of the network, as rail companies struggle to recruit from the UK.

But Malcolm Shirley, director general of the Engineering Council, warned that recruiting from overseas would only be a short-term solution.

‘Industry needs to understand better the value of professionally-trained engineers, not only to the business’s bottom line, but to the nation’s safety and quality of life,’ he said. Companies must ensure engineers recruited from overseas meet the standards required for safety-critical work, he added.