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Switching to rail

There is no shortage of highly skilled companies providing rail infrastructure construction and maintenance services to the UK rail sector. There is no shortage of work either and there are enough new recruits to go round, providing you know where to find them.

Glasgow-based First Engineering is currently Railtrack's infrastructure maintenance contractor for its Scottish region. As well as a maintenance division, First Engineering has a project services arm which carries out project work for Railtrack throughout the UK, and divisions for track renewals, consultancy and facilities.

First Engineering's human resources manager for its project services division Lorraine Toner, says a number of different avenues are being taken to find the right calibre of recruit.

'The majority of our recruitment is for the track renewals and project services divisions because we are currently expanding the scope of these businesses beyond our traditional geographical area.

'We have had to use a wide variety of methods to attract the right recruits including advertising in thepress, use of recruitment agencies and even headhunting firms.'

Toner says the response has generally been good, and on the whole there are enough professionals looking to get into the rail sector to fill the vacancies created by the recent increase in infrastructure maintenance and upgrade work.

'We are recruiting project managers, project engineers, site agents and the full spectrum of signalling professionals and operatives at present,' says Toner. 'The company's heavy involvement in signalling project work in the UK coupled with a shortage of skilled signalling staff on the market has led us to look abroad. One of our directors suggested South Africa could prove fruitful, and he was right as we have succeeded in recruiting some good signalling staff and project managers from there.'

Gibb Rail managing director Tony King says his company is looking to expand by a minimum of 25% over the next year. This will take Gibb Rail's total number of personnel to over 400.

'Recruitment is the only constraint to expansion at the moment,' says King. 'We have offices in London, Reading, York and Birmingham which are all recruiting as hard and fast as they can at the moment to reach the numbers of staff that they require for the future.'

King says Gibb Rail started as a business in 1985 when it began working on the Waterloo International Terminal, and in 1989 the company was expanded to work on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link.

'We were initially a major rail projects company handling the management of large projects such as the Lisbon to Porto upgrade scheme in Portugal, so the personnel consisted mainly of senior strategic staff and we initially recruited mainly senior managers.'

Gibb Rail has expanded its business portfolio considerably during the 1990s to cover the full range of rail engineering both in the UK and abroad through offices established in Russia, Poland, Portugal, Spain, the Baltics, South Africa and Central and South East Asia, says King.

'Since 1992 we have been project managing London Underground's track renewals under LU's Corporate Track Alliance Project. For this contract, and others like it, we have recruited for all levels from inspectors, technicians and junior engineers right up to senior project managers.'

King says Gibb Rail has had a tough time recruiting the staff needed for expansion but at present the growth targets are being met.

'We have capacity for more staff at all levels at the moment. Aside from the usual methods of recruiting through advertising and agencies, we plan to use the resources we have abroad and the strategic alliances we have formed with several major European transport consultancies to support our UK business.'

WS Atkins Rail claims to be the largest multi-discipline rail consultancy in the UK. Paul Lowndes, head of personnel at WS Atkins Rail, says the company provides a fully integrated rail infrastructure support consultancy in the disciplines of permanent way, electrification, signalling, structures and rolling stock.

'We have three principal locations in London, Croydon and Derby. However, we are currently developing into a more regional business with new offices in Birmingham, Swindon, Warrington, Glasgow and York,' says Lowndes.

WS Atkins' major recruitment efforts are focused on its signalling and rolling stock divisions - both very busy at the moment - by attracting professionals within the UK rail sector and by recruiting people coming to Britain from abroad, says Lowndes.

'We don't advertise abroad for personnel to join WS Atkins Rail but overseas rail professionals are being attracted by the opportunities currently available in the UK,' he says.

'It seems people from countries such as Australia and South Africa, where the indigenous rail systems are due to be overhauled and possibly privatised, are seeing the UK rail industry as the ideal place to apply and develop their skills and gain good experience for what is likely to happen in their home countries.'

Jon Masters is senior reporter for Barrett Byrd Associates.

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