Time to Train | Adrian Adair Discusses Delivering Skills for HS2

With the scale of HS2 meaning that some of the workforce involved in the project now will retire before handover, Morson operations director Adrian Adair discusses where the workforce of 24,000 needed to deliver HS2 will come from…


Currently valued at £350million, HS2 is the biggest single rail infrastructure scheme in Europe and will dominate demand for construction-related skills for decades.

According to data gathered by the University of Dundee, the CITB and Experian, the unprecedented demand for skills will involve average requirements for 4,980 construction operatives, 1,015 construction designers and 735 construction managers each month over the course of the 26-year project delivery period, as well as non-construction, rolling stock and railway systems professionals.

The numbers are sobering and the length of time it will take to complete the project means that some of those involved now are likely to be retired before handover, while some of those involved in the final stages of construction may not even have been born yet!

To fully understand the skills requirements of HS2, we must look beyond the numbers and consider what the programme really involves across its phased implementation.

While the scheme is now underway, the current requirement is largely for white collar professionals to design and engineer the project and survey the route. The size, prestige and ambition of HS2 makes it a fantastic opportunity for the relevant pool of professionals but resourcing those roles at the level of expertise required remains a challenge. And the range of skills and knowledge is extremely broad: for example, English Heritage has highlighted a need for more trained archaeologists to ensure the route is properly surveyed, and demand for archaeologists is mirrored by the need for environmental and geological surveys.

Over time, the demand for white collar professional skills will abate and the recruitment focus will transition towards site-based skills and labour. Here too, there are wide-ranging and significant challenges. The National College for High Speed Rail has been established to help train the next generation of professionals and skilled workers in a variety of disciplines ranging from engineering and management to infrastructure and rolling stock. The college offers high level apprenticeships to help resource HS2 and we’re working hand-in-hand with its team to help upskill the next generation. We already deliver intermediate apprenticeships through our dedicated training arm, Morson Vital Training, and working alongside the National College for High Speed Rail gives our apprentices access to higher level pathways, right through to degree level.

HS2 is pushing the boundaries on industry training and safety and we were excited to give our latest cohort of Track Maintenance apprentices the chance to tour the Doncaster campus in 2017, helping to inspire and give insight into the breadth of career paths that their apprenticeship can feed into.

But we at Morson and the college alone cannot supply the full project need. The National College for High Speed Rail estimates that 30 per cent of the current rail industry workforce will need further training to contribute to delivery of HS2 so employers in the sector need to consider now what training their employees will need to contribute effectively to HS2.

There must also be a genuine focus across the construction and rail industries to recruit and train now for the peak in site-based skills we are expecting in two years’ time. When the design and feasibility period has finished and project delivery begins on site thousands of operatives will be required every week and HS2 will be competing with other major projects, including the proposed nuclear schemes, for a limited pool of skilled labour.

There is no quick fix to the issue of skills shortages. However, we are still at a point in the delivery cycle where there is time available to train and retrain candidates to help resource a project that will transform the way we travel as part of a journey towards a more connected economy.

In January, Morson held an HS2 Roundtable to discuss SEE targets, which brought together supply chain partners and organisations involved in the delivery of HS2. From the discussion we found that companies called for more action between the supply chain and Government to futureproof the HS2 skills supply. Read the full findings here >

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