Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Skills in demand

Rail Overview/ Ebbw Vale

Network Rail's business plan puts pressure on skills.

How do you guarantee an engineering recruitment nightmare?

By splashing out an extra £8bn on new and existing projects at a time when the building of the Olympic stadium, the widening of the M25 and construction of Stansted Airport's second runway will all be taking place. On top of this could be Crossrail.

This is exactly what Network Rail proposed last week when it submitted to the Office of Rail Regulation its Initial Strategic Business Plan for its fourth regulatory period between 2009 and 2014 (News last week).

Visilent chief executive officer Tobias Read smells trouble. Visilent is Network Rail's strategic recruitment partner, coordinating the 30 recruitment companies supply the rail operator with staff.

His problem is that there is a skill shortage. 'A lot of rail engineers' skills are quite transferable, ' says Read. 'For example, rates in the power sector are very attractive and can suck people out of industries like rail.'

Network Rail's £8bn request comes on top of the £20.8bn already set to be spent on renewals, maintenance and operations between 2009 and 2014.

This will go on a range of projects including the redevelopment of London Waterloo and construction of the Edinburgh Airport rail link.

However, the largest chunk of the money - £3.2bn - will go on the upgrade of Thameslink, London's north-south line.

'Thameslink in my view will mean the recruitment of between 500 and 600 engineers, ' says Read.

'With all the other construction projects coming online at the same time, there will be an increase of several thousand jobs in what is already a tight labour market.'

Increased demand, skills shortages and other sectors whispering sweet nothings in the rail engineers' ears: it all stacks up to recruitment becoming Network Rail's biggest challenge.

Inevitably, says Read, salaries will go up, especially as Network Rail competes with Metronet and Tube Lines - plus lucrative transport projects in the Middle East - for specialist engineers.

'The rail industry would be wise to look at other sectors, such as oil and gas, ' he says.

'Wage acceleration in the past 18 months has been between 20% and 30%, in sectors that have historically seen stable salary levels.'

Read says that he hopes the £8bn will be enough and that the rail operator has factored salary inflation into its costs.

To find the people it needs, encouraging engineers back to rail from other UK sectors won't be enough for Network Rail, warns Read.

'It will have to look at the recruitment of highly skilled professionals from places such as eastern Europe and the Far East, ' he says.

'I don't know if it's politically acceptable for Network Rail to do that, but it might be their only option to get the work done.'

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Please note comments made online may also be published in the print edition of New Civil Engineer. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.