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Rail careers | Pause for thought

Recruiters of temporary and permanent staff think there are plenty of employment opportunities in the rail sector, in spite of Network Rail’s travails.

You might have thought that Patrick McLoughlin’s recent decision to “pause” Network Rail’s electrification works in the Midlands and on the Trans-Pennine route between Leeds and Manchester would have dampened moods in the rail sector. But in spite of the transport secretary’s intervention, attitudes among recruiters of permanent and temporary rail engineers continue to be bullish.

Specialist rail recruitment consultancy McGinley is paid to predict what skills will be needed by its client base during the current five year rail spending programme known as Control Period 5 (CP5). The company’s business support director Sean McGinley’s shares the optimism of many in the sector.

“The fact that Network Rail funding has been capped or frozen won’t impact on the overall volume of temporary recruitment needed in the industry,” he says. “Network Rail and its contracting base will have to manipulate the work in renewals and enhancements and it will probably change some scoping, some milestones to fit within the budget. But, broadly speaking, the overall money, the amount of money will be spent.”

Rail project

Workload: Rail spending is still going ahead despite decision to “pause” some projects

This positivity about the temporary rail recruitment market is matched by a recruiter of permanent rail engineers. WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff (WSP PB) head of rail Darren Reed says the key thing is that CP5 investment levels are not being changed.

“[Network Rail] is not going to be able to do everything that it wanted to, but the overall level of investment of £38bn remains, which is a record investment in the railways,” he says.

“I still think it’s a positive message.”

Reed says WSP PB hopes to recruit 120 to 150 rail professionals over the course of the year - a slight increase on 2014. More specifically, it plans to recruit a combination of experienced engineers, project managers and graduates to build on “significant” growth in the sector.

“Network Rail is not going to be able to do everything that it wanted to, but the overall level of investment of £38bn remains”

Darren Reed, WSP PB

“We’re heavily involved with [rail projects in] the North West, which are continuing and on the Great Western mainline electrification, both of which are continuing to completion,” he says.

The company is also involved with Crossrail, High Speed 2, the Northern Hub and Manchester Metro. More significantly still, it has recently secured some major international contracts.

“Our big latest win is as the programme manager and engineer on California High Speed Rail,” he says. “It’s a huge programme and undertaking - over 1,000km of high speed line.”

Data skills premium

Reed thinks that projects like this, combined with Network Rails’ objective to create the digital railway has placed a premium on candidates with data skills.

“They want seamless travel, smart ticketing and advanced control systems in terms of signalling systems; an array of those types of things that will make the operation and the use of the railway much more seamless and great for the passenger.”

McGinley agrees about the need for signalling experts and makes some additions of his own. “CP5 does require enhanced skills in signalling, it requires more skills in electrification and also more skills in track because of the risk element and the existing group of track related individuals phasing through in terms of the age bracket,” he says.

Temporary and permanent staff

He also thinks the need for temporary and permanent workers is about to reach its peak. “As far as we’re predicting in terms of the actual market movement in work, then the peak will be between 2016 and 2017 in CP5.

We’re all working towards investing and having the right skill sets available for that time period.”

For recruiters to make the right investments, he thinks the onus is on Network Rail to communicate its strategy.

“Network Rail needs to be quite clear about what changes it might be making to its portfolio in the next few years so we can all plan and execute our investment strategies for recruitment that much better.”

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