Vital regional rail projects could be severely impacted as skilled rail workers are diverted onto HS2 construction, according to one of the UK’s leading suppliers of skilled labour to the rail industry.
The warning, which has been issued by Birmingham-based Auctus Management Group, comes in the wake of increasing concerns in the rail industry over the lack of skilled labour which is being exacerbated by an ageing workforce.
“In Birmingham alone, an extra 8,300 new jobs will be created including nearly 1,000 construction jobs and more than 800 operational and maintenance roles as a result of HS2. At face value this is extremely positive news for the rail industry and the West Midlands economy, but does not come without problems,” says Richard Toy, chief executive of Auctus Management Group.
He continued: “Initial estimates suggest that this skilled labour requirement will drain planned regional rail projects of circa 7% of current rail force labour and 15% of skilled signalling and telephone workers. If the current shortages of skilled labour continue it is inevitable that HS2 will drain labour from existing regional rail projects.”
Phase one of HS2, between Birmingham and London is due to start construction in 2017 and is expected to average approximately 11,500 full time employees per month with a peak monthly workforce of circa 34,000 workers.
In total, HS2 is expected to create around 24,000 construction jobs across the UK, but Toy says Network Rail already has a shortage of approximately 5,000 skilled workers across the UK to deliver its planned works. “There is already a skilled labour shortage for rail construction and maintenance, but HS2 threatens to exacerbate the problem dramatically. Figures I have seen suggest that Network Rail faces losing a further 15% of its workforce to HS2 construction.”
Toy says the roots of the rail skill shortage problem lies in an ageing workforce and a lost generation of rail workers. “The average age of signalling and telephone workers in the rail industry is now 55 and by the time HS2 is being constructed these same people will be close to retirement.
“The problem lies in the fact that working on the railways was traditionally a family affair in this country, with sons following fathers into the sector. However, in the 1980s we lost a generation and the sons of those 55 year-olds are not following their fathers onto the rails.
“The key to solving this skills crisis and delivering both HS2 and other regional rail projects lies in not only offering apprenticeships to 16-24 year-olds, but also in providing funding to train the 30-45 year-olds whose fathers worked on the railways. We need to bring back the lost generation.”