Morson HS2 Skills Roundtable Debate | Companies Call For More Action To Futureproof HS2 Skills Supply

Rebekah Valero-Lee HS2


More action is needed between the supply chain and Government to futureproof the HS2 skills supply.

This was the headline theme during Morson’s roundtable debate held last week, which brought together supply chain partners and organisations involved in the delivery of HS2.

Held at the National College for High Speed Rail Birmingham Campus, the debate hosted representatives from businesses including BBV, CEK, Bechtel and WSP, as well as key figureheads from HS2 Ltd and other key influencers, such as the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce. Key note presentations were also delivered by Neil Roberston, chief executive of the National Skills Academy for Nail (NSAR) and Neil Brayshaw, director of technical training at the National College for High Speed Rail.

The event discussed the challenges and opportunities that supply chain businesses faced in meeting the HS2 skills, employment and education (SEE) targets; and debated topics including the current and future HS2 skills shortage, training and upskilling in line with SEE outcomes, using the Apprenticeship Levy to its fullest and attracting more diverse talent. Overcoming the negative perceptions around Apprenticeships, especially those at lower levels, was an ongoing topic on the agenda and one that most supply chain partners and education providers needed greater help.

“Those around the table gave present day examples of how their outstanding Apprenticeship programmes were simply being dismissed by students and parents,” explained Adrian Adair, operations director at Morson International. “This clearly shows that more needs to be done to improve the perception of Apprenticeships and showcase how this pathway offers just as many advantages, if not more, as traditional education routes, and provides the same quality qualifications that you’d receive at college or university.”

Businesses around the table also discussed the need to make ‘Apprenticeships the norm’ and that in order to do so, the Government must prioritise more spending and focus on educating students at a far younger age by giving teachers better insights and tools in order to become ambassadors for Apprenticeships.

Adrian continues: “This influence has to start far younger when in primary school and we must develop positive attitudes towards vocational training at this age so that an Apprenticeship isn’t ever viewed as ‘second best’. Leaving it until secondary school and college age is almost too late, as by this time, children have already been heavily influenced by their peers, teachers, parents and the media.”

A range of other opportunities to address this were discussed, including redesigning the curriculum and course offering to focus less on routes into specific jobs and instead, more on long-term careers. The point was raised that very few young people grow up saying ‘I want to be a track operative’, but rather, ‘I want to work in engineering’.

It was agreed that the skills gap is the biggest barrier to HS2 and whilst many of the supply chain partners were successfully achieving SEE targets at present, this would only become more difficult as the need for extra labour and more specialist skills increases in the coming years when the project reaches its peak. Career development and career change initiatives to upskill existing staff and attract skills from other sectors was another way to boost labour levels and attract talent that can hit the ground running.

Adrian continues: “There’s far less stigma around changing your career role or industry and this is something that all sectors, not just engineering, can capitalise on. The biggest barrier is often financial, especially for those with families, but could a financial incentive programme be developed and put in place to encourage career switching?

“The purpose of the event was to gain real insight into the challenges and opportunities around HS2 Skills Employment and Education targets and it was clear that there’s an appetite for real change. This requires better collaboration between supply chain and ministers, and whilst we fully understand the budget pressures facing Government, without action, the issues around skills and project delivery will only worsen.

“Collectively, we can make a difference and this is a case that we’ll be bringing to MPs, universities, colleges and schools, to turn talk into action, develop robust strategies and deliver long-term benefits.”