Virtual Revolution for HS2 Work Experience Programme

James Kenealey rail

Vr Donny

The largest infrastructure project in Britain in a generation, HS2, has recently seen the green light given to hundreds of new roles across a wide range of disciplines, from engineering and construction to project management and procurement.

It is estimated that at the peak of the project’s lifespan, 30,000 people will be employed in a variety of roles with 2,000 apprenticeship opportunities created.

As a reaction to the coronavirus pandemic, HS2 has pledged to double the number of graduates it recruits in 2020 to provide opportunities for youth employment. This pledge involves a programme of outreach into schools and other educational facilities to offer work placements and experience to allow the future workers on HS2 to get first-hand, practical experience of working on the project. Since 2017, HS2 has supported over 100 students across the full scope of its departments.

The COVID-19 outbreak made it problematic for the students to receive the standard week-long deployment at one of the HS2 centres, which has resulted in a rethink from the project to instead provide virtual placements. 

Twenty students from London took part in the first week of the project, with further programmes planned across other regions like the West Midlands (home to the HS2 Phase One Birmingham hub) and the North East.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, virtual technology was already being utilised by the National College for High Speed Rail (now The National College for Advanced Transport and Infrastructure) in Birmingham in 2018. The college featured a static train, #Brumstar, within which there was a virtual reality headset that allowed students and young people to virtually drive the train from London to Paris.

As then-Director of Technical Training Neil Brayshaw said:

“There are a lot of projects that go on for young people to try and engage them and to give them the knowledge and understanding of what skills they might require for the jobs available to them after education. We have a train here where you can put a virtual headset on and drive the train from London to Paris. That’s exciting for me, but for a six-year-old how exciting would that be? I think that would stay with them for a long time, rather than look at it in a book or on a screen. They can actually go in there and drive a train.”

Adapting virtual technology has become vital as restrictions have been put in place to tackle the pandemic and the advent of virtual work experience programmes will go a long way to making sure that the current generation of young people won’t miss out on important work experience.

Richard Winter, HS2 Ltd’s Education Manager said:

“40 students aged 16-18 were due to join us over the summer for their annual work experience placement. This is a such a valuable and important part of their education and personal development that we were determined to pull out the stops and make it happen. Being part of a team in a professional environment, learning about different roles and responsibilities and developing essential skills, is highly valuable and not something you can easily replicate in a classroom environment”.

Allan Cook, HS2 Ltd Chairman said:

“Young people have potentially missed out on a huge amount as a result of the pandemic, so our priority was to deliver on the commitment we had made to provide annual work experience opportunities. HS2 is a railway for future generations, so it’s absolutely right that we put young people at the heart of it. Creating opportunities which inspire young people to be the engineers, ecologists and leaders of the future is exactly what we set out to achieve in our Skills, Employment and Education Strategy, and I’m delighted to have played a part in it”.

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