rail industry, hs2

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Collaborative Working is the Future of Transformational Rail

rail industry, hs2

Adrian Adair Rail and Transportation

Adrian Adair, operations director at Morson International, discusses the importance of working together to attract people into the rail sector.

Over the past 7 years Adrian’s passion for innovation and commitment to delivering tailored solutions to employees, candidates and clients alike put him at the forefront of our industry. This article is also featured in July's edition of Recruitment International.

Delivering the Government’s growing infrastructure and construction pipeline will contribute to solving a number of national concerns around regional inequalities, productivity and housing shortages, whilst delivering new opportunities in urbanisation, connectivity and sustainability.

Rail travel is an essential part of this strategy and HS2 will be the new backbone of Britain’s national rail network. Europe’s largest engineering and construction project will create an estimated 25,000 interim roles, 3,100 permanent positions in operations and maintenance and more than 2,000 new apprenticeships, providing golden opportunities for suppliers and recruiters alike. 

Developing a sustainable talent pipeline 

Morson International, together with sister company Vital Rail, has been mapping HS2 from its infancy to understand the complete project lifecycle and skills requirements. Understanding the demands of the project, including the stakeholders’ objectives, targets and challenges, will help Morson to develop a sustainable talent pipeline, using HS2 Ltd’s Skills, Education and Employment (SEE) outputs as a guide for achieving this.

To better interpret the SEE outputs and identify how Morson International, Vital Rail and the wider Morson Group can collaborate with its delivery partners, the Group brought together key opinion leaders from HS2 Ltd and the project supply chain to debate the opportunities and challenges, with senior representatives in attendance from BBV, Bechtel, CEK, Mott MacDonald and WSP.

Collaborating for better results

Collaboration, together with innovation and sustainability, are key principles of HS2’s delivery framework and will determine the effectiveness of the project and its overarching goals. There was real appetite from every organisation around the table to work together to achieve collective change, by preventing duplication of effort and increasing the effectiveness of training, recruitment and diversity programmes; but this collaboration must stretch further than the Tier 1 contractors and their own supply chains.

HS2 presents significant opportunity for the recruitment industry, not only to deliver the thousands of niche and volume skillsets required throughout the project lifecycle, but to upskill an entire generation through apprenticeships and skills development opportunities for those already working within the sector.

Yet the delivery timescales of the project align with a number of other major projects in the UK, including Hinkley Point C, highways schemes and airport transformations, increasing the demand for talent within what is already a limited talent pool of resources.

The Brexit impact

Recruiting and retaining the talent required to build the high-speed rail network is also further impacted by the Brexit decision. Britain’s eventual exit from the EU will see the rail industry lose 10 per cent of its workforce, a figure that could be even higher in some areas, particularly in the South East of England where EU nationals make up around 40 per cent of the construction workforce.

We’re supporting HS2’s supply chain to work together to overcome the challenges that come with delivering the complexities and sheer scale of the project within the current social and political climate; and these same collaborative principles must be applied to the wider recruitment industry.

Recruiters can no longer sit in isolation and instead must work in alliance to provide the entire supply chain with the best talent, especially during peak periods. Collaborative working has an important role to play in helping the industry complete critical infrastructure projects efficiently and cost effectively, and set the benchmark for the delivery of all major projects within the forthcoming pipeline. We’ve built integrated partnerships with a number of recruiters throughout the UK, from boutique agencies through to global leaders, and we’re always looking for new, like-minded partners to share best practice and create bespoke talent-based solutions that service all levels of a project.

Talent-based solutions                                   

In response to the roundtable debate, Morson International, together with Vital Rail and Morson Vital Training, has developed a detailed whitepaper entitled ‘Skills on track: Future proofing the rail industry’, which outlines a number of bespoke talent strategies and techniques that support the achievement of a contractor’s SEE outputs and works to meet the specific skill levels required during key delivery points.

The rail industry has one of the most positive forward outlooks, with more than £14billion due to be invested into the sector over the next decade. The whitepaper builds upon the insights gained from the Tier 1 contractors and their supply chain partners, which combined with our own expertise and knowledge of harnessing talent to help meet the demands of our clients working on some of the most ambitious infrastructure schemes, details the effective strategies that must be adopted to ensure HS2’s successful delivery.

The importance of apprenticeships 

Engineering new perceptions around the sector and improving education and guidance, particularly from primary school age upwards, are two major factors detailed throughout the whitepaper report, which recruiters must play an active role in helping to improve. HS2 Ltd is committed to improving the take of apprenticeships during the project’s construction and operation phases and the whitepaper sheds light on what actions are needed to effectively achieve this core objective.

There was unanimous agreement around the table that the current perceptions of apprenticeships being a ‘last resort’ are preventing young people from choosing this aspirational route. A number of Tier 1 contractors gave examples of how their own apprenticeship schemes, even those at higher levels, were being dismissed by parents and young people as a viable alternative to traditional A Level and University routes.

Whilst parents still remain a major blocker, more needs to be done to promote the career opportunities in rail at a far younger age, something that we’re already working to achieve by partnering with education providers from primary school age right through to degree level. The whitepaper examines in detail a number of effective solutions that will work to ensure the successful delivery of HS2 and the achievement of its core objectives, including prioritising more spending at primary school level to educate teachers in becoming ambassadors for vocational training, and awareness campaigns to showcase engineering as an aspirational career path and dispel stereotypes.

Attracting people into the sector

Collectively, these solutions, combined with active strategies to support in-career transitioning to attract workers with similar skillsets, will support the upskilling of the current workforce and build a sustainable and diverse pipeline of talent that also works to attract people from underrepresented and hard to reach groups.

Collaboration is the core theme running throughout the whitepaper and in response, Morson International has proposed launching a new HS2 ‘Think Tank’ to oversee, coordinate and facilitate joint effort amongst the supply chain, strengthen industry-wide initiatives and provide a vehicle for driving real action and progression.

Collectively we can make recruitment stronger and we are committed to bringing real change, which is a case that we’re bringing to MPs, education providers and other key stakeholders to turn talk into action. HS2 is only the beginning and we’re working to replicate the same strategies to other major projects, including Hinkley Point C.

Establishing shared goals with powerful solutions requires effective collaboration and we’ll be delivering a number of supplier days and workshops over the coming months with our like-minded recruitment partners, particularly those in the SME space, to upskill and improve industry-wide talent matching. We manage £multi-million contracts for our clients and these intelligent solutions rooted in collaboration and sustainability will achieve the best outcomes.

For more information download our ‘Skills on track: Future proofing the rail industry’ whitepaper. To find your opportunity on HS2, search our latest rail jobs now.