Plugging the skills gap to ensure the future of the rail industry is on the right track


The rail sector is at a critical juncture in its history. Yes, in the short term rail watchers will be eagerly awaiting the results of the ongoing review into the HS2 project, but I believe the longer-term health of our industry will hinge on plugging a potential skills shortage.

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Coming down the line is the need for the rail industry to deliver over £100bn worth of work over the next decade; but in order to deliver that we have to ensure we attract the right skills and talent into the rail sector. It’s been estimated the rail industry will need 50,000 new workers by 2033, to replace those who are retiring as well as adapt to changes in technology.

And that’s why this week SSE Enterprise Rail is hosting a landmark dinner in London at the Institute of Civil Engineers in conjunction with The University of Leeds. Our keynote speaker is none other than Sir Peter Hendy, Chairman of Network Rail, who will discuss how we can inspire a new generation of rail innovators to take the industry forward.

The University of Leeds has two leading transport institutes where they are building programmes to develop skills and expertise in the sector. Its Institute for Transport Studies is one of the leading centres for transport teaching and research in the world; whilst its Institute for High Speed Rail and System Integration will revolutionise the way new railway systems are invented, developed and brought into service. This cutting-edge facility will result in research which will transform transport systems all over the world.

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But we’re going to need more than innovation to get the rail sector on track. We also need to ensure it’s a better, more diverse place to work in, and we need to showcase the range of well-rewarded opportunities it presents as well as the family feel that keeps its employees safe and runs through the rail industry’s DNA.

It’s fortunate that SSE places a premium on sustainability; whether that’s paying the real Living Wage or tackling climate change. SSE Group has a proven record of getting big energy projects done, and when it comes to investing and getting rail infrastructure built, we like to think we get the job done too.

For those of you who don’t know much about what SSE Enterprise Rail does, we have over 16 years’ experience at the forefront of rail network transformation in Britain - delivering innovative electrical and infrastructure solutions. We specialise in the delivery of electrical and mechanical, electrification and plant, small civils and building services across the UK, which is supported by round the clock availability.

People have always driven this industry and that was true 200 years ago and it holds true today. We need to fill a potential generational skills gap with the talent of tomorrow and partnering with academia gets us on the right track. By pooling our collective expertise and experience we can all aspire to bigger and better things.

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Rail is thriving today: passenger numbers have doubled in the past 25 years; and the value of goods being carried on our railways is worth £30 billion every year.

So I’m very excited by the night we have planned in London this week – and appropriately we are holding our event in Brunel Room at the Institute of Civil Engineers – in honour of an engineer who transformed the face of the British landscape. His designs revolutionised public transport and modern engineering and I’m sure that his achievements will help us find and inspire the rail engineers we need for tomorrow.