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Valerie Todd: Skilled operator

A seven-year construction timetable gives Crossrail the chance to tackle major employment issues and a lasting legacy of construction skills.

Valerie Todd joined the Crossrail team as talent and resources director at the start of the year, having previously worked at Transport for London. So how different is the task of developing an employment strategy for a project with a finite lifespan to working for a major organisation?

“In any organisation you have a plan of what you want to do based on your business needs, so you can model what you want to do in terms of people against that plan,” she explains. “A project of this size and scale and complexity is not all that different. We’ve got a clear time horizon − we know what we need to do in that time and what the strategy is, so we have built our people strategy against that.”

“We’ve got a clear time horizon − we know what we need to do in that time and what the strategy is, so we have built our people strategy against that.”

Valerie Todd, Crossrail

Crossrail has already identified most of the skills that will be needed by the organisation and its contractors to deliver the project successfully, and established that there are some gaps − particularly when it comes to the skills needed for working underground. Research last year showed that tunnelling and mining skills are in decline in the UK and the workforce that is still engaged in these sectors is ageing.

Talking to other organisations, including utility companies, Crossrail was able to identify many of the major projects in the UK over the next 10 or 15 years that will need tunnelling skills and calculated that there was a strong case for setting up a tunnelling academy. “All sides recognised there was a gap, and the need for an organisation to act as a catalyst to make something happen,” says Todd.

Crossrail has taken on that role, acquiring a site in east London where the academy can be set up and talking with bodies like the International Tunnelling Association, TunnelSkills and the Learning and Skills Council to help develop the curriculum. “We estimate that, just for Crossrail, we will need to train 3,500 people on different modules and programmes,” says Todd. “With the normal churn you would expect on a job of this size, that could be as many as 5,000.”

Ultimate benefit

The academy − due to be built next year and equipped with a tunnel boring machine − will ultimately benefit all clients and contractors working on tunnelling projects. At the moment, a shortage of skilled tunnellers means those who do have the right skills will just leap from one project to another, depending on who’s offering the best pay and conditions.

“If we don’t find a way to address these skills shortages we run the risk of the project not having the right people with the right skills when needed and the consequential knock on effect of inflated wage bills as companies compete for scarce resources,” says Todd. “If we work together, we can increase the skills of more people.

“If we don’t find a way to address these skills shortages we run the risk of the project not having the right people with the right skills when needed.”

Valerie Todd, Crossrail

Many of those people should be local people who live close to the route of the new railway, as Crossrail is committed to the employment of local labour on the project and will be working with its contractors to ensure this commitment is met, including requiring co-operation on local labour through construction contracts.

The company is in negotiations with the London Development Agency’s Relay London − an umbrella organisation for job agencies in the capital − to set up mechanisms for ensuring local people get a fair crack of the whip.

“We will tell them what our contractors’ needs are in terms of jobs and they will work with us to make sure there are job-ready applicants when the jobs are advertised,” says Todd. “We want to attract people from local communities who would be interested in coming to work for us. Relay London will act as our vehicle for letting local communities know how to access jobs on the project.”

Another major commitment

Another major commitment is to work with local schools and use the supply chain to offer 400 apprenticeships to young people over the course of the project. “We want to use Crossrail as a catalyst to bring more young people into the industry,” explains Todd.

There are 679 schools within 1.6km of the route, and Crossrail is trying to make links with all of them, through its Young Crossrail website (aimed at 14 to 19 year-olds), work placements, industry days for teachers and an ambassador programme that sees senior managers going into schools to give talks. From September 2010, Crossrail will also be offering graduate training for engineers, both directly and through its supply chain.

These initiatives for young people are all part of the employment legacy Crossrail hopes to leave once the project is complete in 2017. “The biggest legacy will be the operational railway, but we also want to leave behind a skilled workforce and a viable academy that is useful to the UK economy for the long term,” says Todd.

Fact file

679

Schools within 1.6km of the route

3.5k

People to be trained at the tunnelling academy

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